Not only was Mr. Banderas unable to take the heat (for
which I partly can't blame him... receiving one thousand letters, some
probably threatening, some addressed to his wife... would make anyone think
twice), the actor would later go on to consider starring in the proposed
remake for The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. If you can't fight 'em, join 'em!
and Armenian-Americans ... fear that such a portrayal might lead to a warming of
popular feeling toward Turkey
July 16, 1998
The New York Times
Antonio Banderas, left, as seen in the 1996 movie "Evita," and Kemal Ataturk,
whom Mr. Banderas was to have played in a new movie.
Banderas Quits Film Ataturk Film After Protests
By STEPHEN KINZER
Debate over the political legacy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey,
has upset plans for a film about him that was to have starred Antonio Banderas.
After an intense letter-writing campaign led by Greek-Americans, Mr. Banderas withdrew
from the project. His agent, Lisa Baum, said he wanted to devote his full energy to
another project, "The Phantom of the Opera." Producers of the Ataturk film,
however, say Mr. Banderas was reacting to pressure from Greek-Americans and others who
consider Ataturk unworthy of favorable portrayal.
The principal figure behind the film is Tarquin Olivier, 61, a son of Laurence Olivier.
Mr. Olivier, a financier, hopes to begin a new phase of his career by producing the film,
which he said would cost $25 million exclusive of Mr. Banderas's salary.
Eager to keep Mr. Banderas in the film because much of the financing is contingent on his
participation, Mr. Olivier plans to fly to Hollywood this week to meet with him.
"He has been very enthusiastic, but obviously he was very put off by these
letters," Mr. Olivier said in an interview in New York, where he stopped on his way
to Hollywood. "Our contacts with people in the Greek community here tell us that this
campaign only involves a small number of people. It's motivated by a feeling of hatred not
only toward Ataturk but toward Turkey in general. I'm very much hoping that we can make
him see this, and that we don't get into a situation which undermines freedom of speech
and freedom of the arts."
Notices of Mr. Banderas's intention to play Ataturk began appearing In Greek-American
publications several weeks ago. One of them published a letter signed by "a member of
the Greek community of N.Y." describing Ataturk as a "savage maniac" who
was also "a child molester of both sexes, a mass murderer, a destroyer of Greek
civilization and in general a disgrace to human civilization as we know it."
The announcements were accompanied by appeals to readers to send protest letters to Mr.
Banderas and his wife, the actress Melanie Griffith. Mr. Olivier estimated that they might
have received as many as 1,000 letters.
The campaign has not been universally welcomed by Greek-Americans. An editorial in this
week's edition of The
Greek American, a weekly newspaper published on Long Island, said it had caused many
Greeks "to cringe in."
"All-out demonization is not serious," the editorial said. "The end result
is to make us look like ethnic hysterics, with these groups' objections usually showing up
our own chauvinism and narrow-mindedness more than anything else."
Efforts to make a film about Ataturk, a military leader who won glory in battle and went
on to forge a modern nation on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, have a long history.
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Omar Sharif were among actors involved in various projects.
This time, however, the project is apparently falling victim to contemporary politics.
Some Greek-Americans and Armenian-Americans fear that the film will be reverential,
portraying Ataturk as a hero and ignoring what they consider his evil deeds. They fear
that such a portrayal might lead to a warming of popular feeling toward Turkey, a
historical rival of both Greece and Armenia.
Ataturk was responsible for pushing Greek forces from Anatolia after World War I, but then
he pursued a peaceful policy toward Greece. His friendship with the Greek Prime Minister
of the time, Elevtherios Venizelos, became so strong that Venizelos nominated him for the
Nobel Peace Prize in 1934, praising him as "a great reformer" who made "a
precious contribution to the cause of peace."
The script for the planned Ataturk film is by an American writer, Timothy Prager, and is
based on a 1964 biography by Lord Kinross that is generally considered less than
definitive but the best available. Bruce Besford, whose films have included "Breaker
Morant" and "Driving Miss Daisy," has agreed to direct.
Turkish Government officials were wary of the idea for many years, fearing that any
portrayal showing Ataturk as having human failings might undermine the veritable cult that
has grown up around his memory. But Mr. Olivier and his Turkish-born wife, Zelfa, said
they had won pledges of cooperation from President Suleyman Demirel and Prime Minister
Mesut Yilmaz. They said they had not shown the script to either one or to any other
Turkish official. Ataturk, who died in 1938, is a naturally appealing subject for a film
biography. A brilliant military officer and social visionary, he was also a ruthless
national leader with little patience for the niceties of democracy. His array of personal
quirks and his relationship with a European woman add spice to the story.
Mr. Olivier said he hoped to make a film comparable to "Gandhi," which gave many
filmgoers a positive view not only of Gandhi but also of India. That prospect is precisely
what upsets people who believe that any story favorable to a Turkish historical figure
would improve the image of modern Turkey.
As far as is known, the letter writing campaign was generated entirely within the United
States. There is no indication of any involvement by Government or private figures in
either Greece or Armenia.
letter written to the actor by a Turkish-American, as reported in The Turkish
Great Actors Need Courage
July 22, 1998
Mr. Antonio Banderas, Creative Artists Agency
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
Dear Mr. Banderas,
I am writing to express my profound concern at your decision to give up the Ataturk
role under the pressure of a destructive and extremely unfair propaganda by
I wanted you to know that all Turks are indebted for many things to this heroic
commander, great reformer and gifted statesman. As a a heroic commander, he saved
the homeland from extinction and established the modem Turkish Republic on the
sacred soil of the homeland that had been demolished, burned, ruined and
impoverished by outsiders including Greeks! As a great reformer opened the doors to
contemporaneousness by working shoulder to shoulder with his great nation in very
difficult conditions. As a statesman he was a farsighted and great genius returning
the Turkish Nation to a nation respected by civilized populations in the world by
establishing friendly relations with countries he fought as an enemy such as Greece!
I would like to assure you that the Greek attacks against the greatest leader of
this century is baseless and morally ridiculous. He is actually the founder of the
modem Turkish Republic and our nation's self-sacrificing, loyal manservant,
passionate and distinguished figure of mankind's ideals and a real hero. As
Turkish-Americans, myself, my wife Inci (who is on the faculty at Rice University in
Houston, Texas), my daughter Basak (who graduated from MIT with a masters degree in
mechanical engineering and works in Baines Comp. in Los Angeles, CA) and my son
Baris (who graduated from Trinity University and works at Anderson Consultant Corp.
in Houston, Texas) are admiring, exalting, being proud of and praising his
Kemalistic principles and ideals.
We all hope that you may reconsider your decision to play Ataturk role as a great
actor with a common sense and courage. If you need further assistance please let us
Atilla Ertan, M.D.
hatred for all things Turkish (Excerpts)
The Daily Telegraph:
The letters follow an invitation to protest in a Greek-American newspaper, and accuse
Ataturk of being an alcoholic , a child molester, a mass murderer and a "disgrace to
human civilization." The letters also accuse Ataturk of being responsible for the
deaths of thousands of Armenians.
The New York-based Hellenic Alliance sent a letter to Banderas's agents saying: "We
find Mr. Banderas an exceptional actor who could find better parts to play than a man who
has been found to be a child molester (and) an alcoholic."
Another anonymous "member of the Greek
"Mr. Banderas, otherwise loved by Greeks all over the world, not only after that will
be hated for life but (he) will also be forever associated with corruption of history,
disinformation and the portrait of a savage maniac."
The film's co-producer, Tarquin Olivier, the son of Laurence Olivier, told the Daily
Telegraph that three previous attempts to bring Ataturk to the screen by Douglas Fairbanks
Jr., Kirk Douglas and Omar Shariff had all fallen victim to similar anti-Turkish
threats... "This is the role of a lifetime and should not be lost because of hate
mail. My father used to get this kind of abuse when he played Nazis; I think that this is
really unreasonable and I hope that Antonio will take it up again, but he has been in a
spot and doesn't want to get involved in controversy," Mr. Olivier said.
"I have been working on this project for a long time and have sunk a lot of money
into it. What is being said about Ataturk is not true. And in any case we do not plan to
portray him as a saint. I am hoping that common sense wil prevail."
Mr. Olivier added: I believe this is an amazing story about a man who did more for his
country than any man in history. He introduced a new alphabet, he gave women the vote, he
set up a republican democracy. There is also a compelling Love story."
I don't know the reasons why previous film
projects with the three stars Olivier mentions fell through. It would be interesting
to learn how much of a part anti-Turkish forces played, as Olivier claims. (I do
remember reading an account of Yul Brynner slated to play Atatürk in another proposed film that also did not see the
light of day.)
If we can regard Atatürk objectively, putting aside the Turkish connection,
it's truly amazing what the man has accomplished. His nation was utterly defeated
and set for getting sliced up by the victorious major powers. The suffering and
exhausted people's morale and fighting spirit must have been at an all-time low. The
government of this defeated nation became a patsy of the victors, no longer
representing the people.
is almost impossible to grasp the revolutionary achievements of Mustapha Kemal Pasha,
head of the Angora Government. Here is a man of forty, who in the course of a few
years has accomplished what would have been considered a task for 500 years, leaping
from entirely unrepresentative governmental methods to really democratic ones. —
From "The Turkish Myth"
Within this air of unimaginable
despair, it was the will of one man who turned things around. If there was no Atatürk, there would be no Turkey today.
The story is an amazing testament of what one person can do. The story is an
inspiration to those of us who believe "you can't fight city hall."
Put aside the other jaw-droppingly remarkable achievements Atatürk was responsible for, that makes his story even more
compelling. Strictly his true-to-life "against all odds" experience would
be a rousing natural tale that would be worthy of any movie.
It's unbelievable that an Atatürk movie hasn't been made in the West, when you think
How immoral of the Turk haters to make charges out of the blue.
The one that gets me is "child molester." Atatürk enjoyed
being around children and loved children in the sense we like for adults to love
children, which displays our warmth and humanity. How evil to associate anything
sexual to this normal and preferred kind of love. Since it's human nature to believe
the worst in others... a human trait these Greek-Americans know all too well to
exploit... let us explore this ridiculous territory for a moment, and imagine
something fishy was going on. Even if that were to happen, how would these cruel
Greek-Americans KNOW this kind of thing happened? It's a totally irresponsible and
especially vile charge fueled strictly by hatred, and a perfect example of the
mindset of these disturbed people... and how it leads to all the other claims they
make, without regard to truth or evidence.
It's ironic these Greek-Americans describe Atatürk as a "savage
murderer." After the invading Greek forces were booted out by Atatürk, with no reprisals
against the remaining Greeks who could have been targeted for the incredible
atrocities committed by their brethren, he pursued a mature policy by advocating
friendship with his neighboring country... a policy that was immensely appreciated
by Venizelos, the Greek leader at the time. (He even nominated the Turkish leader
for a Peace Prize). Greeks and Turks were friends for years (until 1950 or so) as a
result (For example, Many Turkish sailors lost their lives, targeted by Nazis,
attempting to ship supplies to a desperate Greece during World War II) until hatred
slowly overtook Greek society once again. (Like Orthodox brother Slobodan Milosevic,
some Greek politicians learned the value of gaining support by targeting an enemy.
Perhaps Greece was so appreciative of such a philosophy, this may have been a good
reason for Greece to be among the handful of nations to support Serbia during the
Bosnian conflict.) A lesser man than Atatürk could have chosen a more
vindictive and aggressive path (say, by invading Greece afterwards), especially in
response to how the Greeks totally raped Izmir and Anatolia while they had the upper
hand... brutalities that so turned off the British— who made it possible for the
Greeks to come in — they abandoned their Greek ally.
I wish there were more rational voices in the Greek and Armenian communities as the
one of the editorial writer in the Greek newspaper, mentioned in the Times article.
No doubt there were some right-thinking Greek-Americans who "cringed in
embarrassment." However, I fear they were vastly overshadowed by the majority
of their brethren who wear their Turcophobias on their sleeves. Antonio Banderas got
threatening mails in large numbers difficult to ignore.
While I don't blame the movie star on one hand... he was merely trying to get on
with his life in a conflict-free manner, as we all attempt to do... I can't help
being unimpressed by his character. If I were in his shoes, I would have looked
around and learned. If I reached the conclusion the Turks had been defamed and now
found myself as the target of the hysterical defamers, I would hope my principles
and backbone would have been strong enough to proceed with the project, just to show
up the forces of wrong. I might have thought otherwise, however, if I feared the
well-being of my loved ones were at stake. The article reports Banderas's wife was
targeted, as well. (Even if these letters didn't openly make death threats, it would
be unnerving for anyone to receive a thousand such crazed communications by mostly
One of the reported letters amused me: "Mr. Banderas, otherwise loved by Greeks
all over the world, not only after that will be hated for life..." I wonder why
Greeks all over the world would love Mr. Banderas? Which one of his films would have
made the Greeks so overwhelmingly adore the Spanish actor.... could it have been TIE
ME UP! TIE ME DOWN!..? Of course, this is yet another example of Greek-Americans
playing fast and loose with the facts; while there is no reason why Greeks as a
whole would have taken Banderas to heart (any more than they would have had to
dislike him), the writer needed his little lie to set up what could easily work out
to be a reality: Greeks could take it out on the poor actor for daring to be an
instrument in improving Turkey's image a bit. That would be inexcusable, after the
monumental coup scored with MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, the anti-Turkish effects of which
still linger to this day.
(While I wrote this page months
ago, it is now May 31, 2003. A week ago, I spoke to a receptionist in a Manhattan
office building, and the subject of our ethnic identities came up. Upon hearing of
my Turkish background, he immediately brought up MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, wondering how
true the portrayed events were. A quarter-century after the release of the movie.)
At any rate.... even if Antonio Banderas's wimpiness is somewhat excusable, a recent
career choice seems downright insensitive. Encouraged by ARARAT, he is reported to
have been slated to appear in a remake of THE
FORTY DAYS OF MUSA DAGH, a novel written on the basis of an "Armenian
Genocide" report that turned out to have a lot less credibility than its author
was led to believe. Antonio Banderas must have figured just as he couldn't win in a
film that would show Turkey in a good light (at least not “win” with the scary
Turcophobes who would continuously give the actor a black eye whenever they could;
otherwise, if the proposed Atatürk film reached the stature of GANDHI, the role could
have “made” him, just as Ben Kingsley is still identified with his breakthrough
role), he couldn't lose in a film project that would show Turkey in a bad light. If
this report is true, why would one turn around and consider rewarding the fanatics
that caused so much grief?
example of out-of-control Greek-Americans and their orchestrated letter-writing
campaigns... this time targeting "60 Minutes" man Andy Rooney.