Jolie's debut anti-Serb after all

Angelina Jolie could hardly have chosen a more difficult subject for her directorial debut. "In the Land of Blood and Honey" focuses on violence against women in the recent and bloody war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992-95).

Apart from a substantial professional challenge, the topic implies immense moral responsibility towards the victims of the conflict.

The most important concern was Jolie’s ability to escape ethnic bias in her portrayal of victims. Our research shows that she has utterly failed in this respect.

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Our organization grew out of a grassroots movement that arose in reaction to an omission of Serb victims of the Jasenovac death camp in a Spanish TV program:

Following our first success, we have made it our mission to monitor Anti-Serb hate speech and media bias.

The recent premieres of ”In the Land of Blood and Honey” gave us a long awaited opportunity to analyze it in order to ascertain the truth of allegations of anti-Serb slant.

Using content analysis, we counted the characters appearing in scenes depicting violence and categorized them based on a number of criteria including gender (male, female), role (civilian, soldier), ethical valence (victim, perpetrator), and ethnicity (Muslim, Serb, Croat). We then compared the observed frequencies with available official statistics.

The complete analysis including written and verbal references to violence and additional criteria will follow shortly. However, the preliminary results are sufficiently conclusive:

1. All war criminals are Serbs.
2. None of the civilian victims are Serbs.
3. All civilian victims are Muslims.

Women victims appearing in scenes of "In the Land of Blood and Honey" by nationality    Civilian victims appearing in scenes of "In the Land of Blood and Honey" by nationality    War criminals appearing in scenes of "In the Land of Blood and Honey" by nationality

Serb atrocities include detention, attack on a Red Cross convoy, expulsions and confiscations of property, random killings of passers-by, collective execution on the edge of a mass grave and throwing a baby from the building. The story focuses on a group of 46 Muslim women enslaved in a Serb-controlled detention camp in which they are beaten, raped and humiliated. Old women are forced to undress in front of partying solders.

There is a significant discrepancy between our findings and the facts.

In reality, the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina was a civil war not between two, but three constituent peoples: Muslims (or Bosniaks), Serbs and Croats. All three fought each other, all committed atrocities, including systematic abuse of women, and all fell victim to such atrocities.

Serb women were systematically raped by Muslim and Croat perpetrators in prison camps in Sarajevo, Odžak, Konjic, Kladanj, Dretelj, Bosanski Brod, Visoko, Čelebići, Tarčin, Mostar, and Tuzla, to mention but the most notorious locations.

The regional premiere of ”In the Land of Blood and Honey” was held in the Zetra Centre - one of many Sarajevo camps in which Serb women were detained and raped.

The statistical breakdown of victim numbers and their ethnic background is available only as an estimate. The Sarajevo-based Research and Documentation Center estimated that the Bosnian War resulted in approximately 100,000 victims, 66% of whom were Muslims, 26% Serbs and 8% Croats. The same Center has condemned the claim of 20,000 victims of rape as a “complete exaggeration” and manipulation. In comparison, Jolie asserts that "as many as 50,000 Bosnian women were raped". 

Other reliable research reports a total of 30,700 Serb victims, of which c. 8,500 only in Sarajevo.

Ignoring Serb victims would in itself represent an act of discrimination and disrespect. But Jolie makes this worse by doing nothing to exempt Serb victims from generalized blame, or suggest culpability of the Muslim perpetrators.

According to Jolie, the film was meant to honor the victims of the war. However, it has achieved exactly the opposite – it has discriminated, omitted, vilified and disempowered victims on ethnic grounds.

The author and cast members have repeatedly denied the allegations of anti-Serb bias, insisting that they had been fair and objective.

Our research, however, reveals unambiguous anti-Serb bias to the extent that not a single Serb victim, nor a single war-criminal who is not a Serb is portrayed in the film.

When compared to factual data, such portrayal cannot even be labelled "biased" - it is blatantly one-dimensional.

A black-and-white portrayal is an artistic procedure with a rich tradition in Hollywood, and elsewhere. "This is not a documentary" is an excuse Jolie and her team have used often.

What is it then? Is it a monument to the victims of a civil war, or to one of the warring sides. Is it meant to respect, or disrespect victims?

How can we explain the discrepancy between the movie content and the reality, between intentions and results? Why has the author failed to acknowledge Anti-Serbism even when confronted with it?

Assuming Jolie was not motivated by a hidden agenda, the only explanation is the desensitizing effect of Anti-Serbism. The negative prejudice has made Serb suffering less disturbing, and Serb guilt assumed unquestioningly.

In the memorable closing scene, the Serb character Daniel repeats: "I'm a war criminal". He voices a consensus: Serbs are criminals.

This movie clearly shows how deep and dangerous Anti-Serb prejudice is, when it can turn a women's rights activist into an accomplice in demeaning rape victims.

Fighting this prejudice is a necessary precondition for reconciliation of the Balkan nations, which can be built only on the truth.