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How Hollywood is trying to leave stereotypes about Russia in the past

From a conversation with the authors of Chernobyl and Catherine the Great.


For the past fifty years, a stereotype of “bad Russians” has been exploited in Hollywood – antagonists first from the USSR and then from Russia appeared in films. Take the same Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) in Rocky IV, or Ivan Korshunov (Gary Oldman) in The Airplane of the President – there are hundreds of such examples.

The reasons are understandable – the impact of the Cold War affects. However, in recent years, foreign directors have increasingly turned to the topic of Russia – and instead of once again showing prejudices, they want to open the setting from new angles.

We chose the main thing from the Variety column about how the authors of the series find a new approach to the stories dedicated to Russian history. The publication talked with the authors of “Chernobyl” and “Catherine the Great”, and also learned the opinion of Nina Khrushcheva, a professor at New York University and great-granddaughter Nikita Khrushchev.

For the director of Catherine the Great, Philip Martin, the series became an opportunity to show historical Russia and its leader differently.

Thanks to this series, we have a chance to get around the stereotypical image of Russia. Catherine was a modern, intuitive and intelligent person – a lot is visible in her from the world in which we live now.

Philip Martin

director of “Catherine the Great”

To achieve authenticity, the series was shot not only in Latvia and Lithuania, but also in Russia – in particular, in the Catherine Palace in Pushkin. Helen Mirren, who played the main role, was able to walk on the same flooring as the Empress herself almost two hundred years ago.

We worked together with Russian people – they were 90% of our film crew. And thanks to this, there was a wonderful feeling of the presence of another culture, about which we know so little – although it is unusual.

I hope that in the coming years we will have the opportunity to tell more stories about Russia.

Philip Martin

director of “Catherine the Great”

The Chernobyl showrunner Craig Mazin also tried to move away from the “traditional” view of Russia and its inhabitants – primarily drawing attention in the series to those people who were victims of the disaster and helped to eliminate the consequences.

We were all obsessed with authenticity: on the one hand, because the main theme of the series was truth, and on the other, as we told the stories of Soviet people, Ukrainians and Belarusians. And the best way to honor their memory was to achieve authenticity in detail – without slipping into caricature and satire.


Craig Mazin

show runner “Chernobyl”

According to the surviving photographs and videos, the creators of Chernobyl recreated everything they could – from household furniture in Soviet apartments to buttons in the control room of a nuclear power plant. The authors even consulted with a person who knew Soviet uniform – “so that every shoulder strap and medal were in place.”

However, despite all efforts, the series failed to escape criticism. For example, Nina Khrushcheva, the great-granddaughter of the Secretary General of the CPSU Central Committee, Nikita Khrushchev, who now works as a professor of international relations at the Research University of New York, spoke out.

She “was very impressed” from the first four episodes, however, in her opinion, in the fifth series, the authors of the series still could not resist expressing their opinion on the Soviet government.

Toward the end, Chernobyl began to respond to a political request to portray the Soviet government and its representatives as morons and bastards who were incapable of anything. In this form, it fits perfectly with the formula of the Hollywood image of Russia, in which there is nothing positive.

In terms of character disclosure and emotionality, the series was good. But on the political side, he disappointed me.

Nina Khrushcheva

In her opinion, in the eyes of American television, Russia is still an “evil empire,” and it doesn’t matter what era it is about – under Vladimir Putin, Mikhail Gorbachev or Nikita Khrushchev.

Nina Khrushcheva believes that in order to completely eradicate stereotypes from the cinema, Hollywood needs to abandon “political prejudices” – including those same “bad guys.” This also applies to the comic image – as in the last season of Very Strange Things.

However, in her opinion, given the current political situation, it is unlikely that anything will change in the media in the near future – but there is potential.

I do not know how much more slander will be due to interference in the election or the current situation with impeachment, but in Hollywood the sky is not the limit.

Nina Khrushcheva


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