RRR is historically significant – and not because it smashed box office records

I’m grateful to have been offered an opportunity to write about the international Indian hit film RRR for Contingent Magazine, whose mission statement is “history is for everyone.” They purposely waited until 15th August (India time), India’s Independence Day, to publish the article as their lead story today.  What does RRR have to do with my Kolkata theatre research as a Fulbright-Nehru Scholar?  You’ll see. And be sure to read those footnotes.

The article begins below:

Sure, George Washington was a good war strategist, but could he pick up a motorcycle by one wheel and swing it around in battle? Or how about if Martin Luther King Jr. had busted Malcolm X out of prison by carrying him on his shoulders and dodging gunfire while hopping across rooftops, and together they took out J. Edgar Hoover? These events could not, and never did happen, but would be pretty cool to see in a big-budget historical fantasy action flick.

Cont’d at http://contingentmagazine.org

An Unforgettable Night in DC

Bono, of course. Behind him to the left in the white mask is Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Last night I had the pleasure of representing Drexel University’s Westphal College of Media Arts & Design and Drexel’s Office of Global Engagement at the star-studded 2021 Fulbright Prize for International Understanding ceremony in our nation’s capital. This year, the award went to Bono in case you haven’t already figured that out.

My red carpet moment.

You can watch the entire inspiring ceremony below.

Myself with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Ethan Rosenzweig (center) and fellow Fulbright Alumni Ambassador Prof. Jeffrey B. Johnson from Boise State University.
Myself with Prof. Johnson and IIE Co-President A. Sarah Ilchman. The IIE is the Institute of International Education, a global nonprofit that administers the Fulbright program for the US State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Bono’s jaw-dropping speech starts around 59:20 (the link is cued up for you). He is introduced by the Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the first woman and first African to hold the position, Dr. Ngozi Okon-Jo-Iweala.

War in Europe

US Department of Defense post-strike bomb damage assessment photo used by Joint Staff Vice Director for Strategic Plans and Policy Maj. Gen. Charles F. Wald, U.S. Air Force, during a press briefing on NATO Operation Allied Force in the Pentagon on May 5, 1999. Photo via https://www.defense.gov/Multimedia/Photos/igphoto/2001238761/

I keep hearing intelligent, well-informed journalists and commentators referring to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as some version of “the first war in Europe since the end of WW II.”  This is mindbogglingly false. Do we have collective amnesia?  I hope not.

Here are some trigger words to jar our memories: rape camps, ethnic cleansing, Srebrenica, Milosevic, Karadzic, Slovenian War, Croatian War, genocide, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatian paramilitaries massacring Serbian Orthodox Christian civilians, Serbian paramilitaries massacring Croatian Catholic civilians, Yugoslav Muslims being hit hard by all of them, UNPROFOR, Kosovo War, Balkans Conflict.

It culminated in the US, under the auspices of NATO, bombing Belgrade, the first time a European capital had been bombed by another country since the end of WW II, and Russian tanks rolling into Kosovo with the blessing of the US and NATO.  The circumstances at that time were very different than they are in the present conflict. During the entire period of the breakup of Yugoslavia, about 150,000 people died and the wars created millions of refugees.

I am not suggesting a question of whether we should or shouldn’t have bombed Yugoslavia. Opinions run wild on that and I’m not trying to spark a debate. I’ve had enough of those to last me a lifetime. I’m pointing out that to call Russia’s Ukraine invasion the first war in Europe since the end of WW II is to shamefully disregard the many thousands of civilians who suffered and died during what are now collectively called The Yugoslav Wars. Let’s not erase these victims from history.

I would have liked to see at least one news article these past five days that began with something like, “Not since the wars in Yugoslavia have we seen such a…” or “Not since the US-led NATO bombing of Serbia, albeit under markedly different circumstances, has there been a…”  But not one. The Associated Press’ description of the present horrific invasion of Ukraine is the only accurate one I’ve stumbled upon so far:  Putin’s invasion is “the largest land invasion in Europe since the end of WW II.”  That is true, even though it seems crafted to circumvent any mention of the US and NATO as being the first to bomb Europe since the end of WW II. Right or wrong, for or against, the Yugoslav Wars need to be acknowledged instead of wiped from our collective memories.

I am very opposed to Russia’s Ukraine invasion and proud that the world is standing up to Putin, much to his surprise, but I’m seeing that often our messaging is not accurate and erases this tremendous loss of  lives that only ended about 22 years ago.

Will we have forgotten about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine 20 years from now? We might not think so right now but I fear we will forget. As an American, this saddens me.

I was in Serbia and Croatia just before the period of our 1999 bombing campaign, thanks to receiving an award from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and was inspired to write the anti-war play Tesla’s Letters. I later returned to Croatia to teach at a summer film and theatre workshop sponsored by the Soros Foundation and Zagreb University. Tesla’s Letters premiered in New York in April of 1999 during the NATO bombing campaign. Here is the New York Times review of it for further context.