We recently reviewed season two of Marco Polo, and while there’s both good and bad to be found in the show, one thing that can’t be denied is that its settings are quite interesting. With the exception of heavily stereotyped kung fu movies and things of the like, ancient Asia isn’t often explored in Western cinema or television. That makes this show’s forays into the world of Kublai Khan pretty unique. In a way, it’s not unlike what the History Channel has done with Vikings, which has provided a look at northern Europe in the Viking age that stands out as different than most historical epics.
But when you start to think about things like this, it quickly becomes surprising how many fascinating locations and historical settings have been all but ignored by Hollywood. Given the film and TV industry’s fascination with history, one would think they’d have covered most of the world by now. But the following locations have been (for the most part) mysteriously left alone….
India is fairly prominent in modern cinema, largely because Bollywood has become arguably the strongest film industry outside of the U.S. However, India is a very old country steeped in tradition and fascinating ideologies, and for the most part its ancient history has been left on the outside whenever Hollywood has looked to the past.
In particular, the surprising story that’s never been told is that Indian kings in some sense repelled Alexander the Great as the Macedonian warlord rampaged across Asia. There is debate over what exactly happened when Alexander met the Indians (and a king named Porus), and in fact we don’t know for sure who won the battle between them. However, it’s clear that Alexander never went on to conquer India. He was either stopped by Porus, or he defeated him but allowed him to keep his kingdom (out of admiration, as the story goes).
But this is merely one tale from ancient India. The politics, religion, and warfare, not to mention beautiful scenery of the country have been extraordinarily interesting all across history. Also, it would be pretty great to see Hollywood bring about some accurate depictions.
Part of the reason that the Amazon rainforest has been largely unexplored in Hollywood might just be that we don’t quite know what to imagine. There are still indigenous tribes in this part of the world, and in a way, it’s an area in which history and modern times blend together. There’s no obvious story to tell, as there is with Alexander and Porus.
Still, there’s a lot for a filmmaker to play around with. In terms of ancient history, there were fascinating tribes that left behind everything from stone monuments to shrunken heads. In terms of pure nature, some of the most popular online bingo rooms are among the only elements of modern entertainment that have embraced the Amazon, and did so merely by showing scenes from the rainforest. A colorful toucan, lush vegetation, etc. makes up an appealing backdrop for a game pitching “exotic bingo fun.” And in modern times, the Amazon could even serve as a location for a film about environmental rights, or a drama about drug trafficking.
Despite all of this potential, the only real example of an Amazon-related film since the ’80s was 2013’s The Green Inferno, which was an absurd gore film about activism gone awry. It may be time for a fresher take, either embracing the culture of ancient societies, the beautiful landscapes depicted in the aforementioned bingo game, or some sort of modern political issue.
Plenty of films have been made about various parts of the African continent, but usually they’ve centered on a few core chapters of history, from the Egyptian empire to 20th century conflicts in South Africa. But with the exception of Blood Diamond, an outstanding 2006 film for which Leonardo DiCaprio was nominated for an Oscar, there haven’t been too many noteworthy projects to focus on West Africa.
That’s a shame, because this particular part of the continent has an absolutely fascinating history. In addition to being the hotbed of many of the horrifying atrocities associated with the diamond trade and other conflicts over natural resources. It’s also a region from which many were abducted to be slaves in the New World during and following the age of exploration. And if you care to read about the medieval kingdoms of Africa, you may notice that many of them reigned in the western portion of the country.
It’s an ancient part of the world and one that’s been in the midst of an incredible amount of political maneuvering, misfortune, and perseverance over the centuries. Yet, most of this history hasn’t been touched on by the film industry.
Given the unrelenting narrative that Hollywood is “running out of ideas,” it will be interesting to see if they continue to mine human history in the years ahead—and if they end up approaching any of these settings or specific circumstances.