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This is Exactly What We Need From Hollywood Right Now

The new Spider-Man will battle Nazis in ‘Beneath a Scarlet Sky.’
Tom Holland Spiderman
By  · Published on August 16th, 2017

The new Spider-Man will battle Nazis in ‘Beneath a Scarlet Sky.’

Pascal Pictures just announced their acquisition of the rights to adapt “Beneath a Scarlet Sky,” Mark Sullivan’s fictionalized account of the astonishing true story of a young Italian man’s role in steering the Allies to success in World War II. Young Spider-Man himself, Tom Holland, will reunite with his Homecoming producer Amy Pascal to play Pino Lella, the heroic teenager at the heart of this inspiring tale.

Presumably the feature will follow the timeline of Sullivan’s book, which begins with the 17-year-old Pino living a blissful youth with his affluent family in their Northern Italian home. When Milan is bombed, however, Pino’s happy domestic existence is shattered, and he’s sent to a Catholic boys’ school in the Alps for safekeeping. Although too young to fight in the resistance, he is guided by a strong moral compass and a desire to help. Under the direction of the school’s priest, Pino joins an underground railroad, learns secret routes over the mountains, and guides scores of Jewish people seeking escape from Nazi persecution to safety in Switzerland.

As if this isn’t already enough plot for one movie, Pino’s life takes an even more dramatic turn when he turns 18. No longer able to avoid being drafted into one of the Axis armies by virtue of his coming of age, he joins an arm of the Third Reich and is appointed to the position of chauffeur for the high-ranking German general (as yet uncast) who runs the operation in Northern Italy. Due to his proximity to the general and all those Nazi secrets, the Allies call Pino up to spy on their behalf. Sustained by his desire to build a peaceful world to share with his love, Anna, the young man throws himself into the dangers of this perilous task and begins to help the Allies defeat the Nazis.

The enormous responsibility placed on Pino’s young shoulders is something audiences will marvel at when the film is released (as of yet, unconfirmed), but it holds a more important message, too. Burdens of that magnitude only existed because Nazi ideas were left to fester, unchallenged by the majority, for so long. This type of true story doesn’t just convey the inspirational bravery of an individual; it also serves as a searing indictment of wide-held apathy in the face of supremacist ideology. With the 2017 we’ve had, it will no longer be possible to watch Beneath a Scarlet Sky and indulge yourself with a pat on the back for having rooted out hatred 62 years ago. Current events have left no doubt as to the unavoidable truth: Nazism is very much still alive.

Recently, Hollywood has hinted at its desire to move away from morally authoritative movies about Nazis. Films like The Reader, for instance, suggest an interest in exploring the psychological “depth” of Nazis, trying to salvage a scrap of humanity in them so that we’ll think twice about calling these characters evil. The film sees former SS guard Hanna’s (Kate Winslet) memory kept alive by her ex, Michael (Ralph Fiennes), despite the repulsion he feels at his discovery (years after their relationship has ended) of her involvement in the murder of several hundred Jewish women in 1944. As the audience, we’re encouraged to see “both sides” to Hanna’s story, despite never being shown one of these sides — the full horror of her sadistic past — and in spite of her never actually renouncing the anti-Semitism behind her actions. It was a galling maneuver for filmmakers to pull in 2008, but one that, back then, might have passed as thoughtfulness or the spirit of forgiveness to some audiences, who may have believed Hanna and her ilk were all dead and buried. I don’t think many people are under that illusion anymore.

Hollywood has a chance to be more constructive now. This week, screen grabs from Quentin Tarantino’s Nazi-smashing Inglourious Basterds have enjoyed fresh popularity, suggesting that more no-nonsense films of this kind would be welcome to many audiences. More than just welcome, actually: I think they’re necessary. As are movies that expand beyond the World War II Nazi trope, since they will help to dispel the myth that Nazi thought has only ever existed in Germany, and that it’s confined to the 20th century.

In the 1940s, Germans who had fled their home for fear of persecution were writing about the “political function” of anti-Nazi movies. One author, Klaus Mann, defined Hollywood’s moral duty as producing films which “deepen and … intensify the knowledge and the horror” of Nazi ideology, leaving their audiences in no doubt as to which “side” they should morally align themselves with. But Hollywood had failed, Mann argued, because the necessary films had “come too late”. If it’s going to avoid the same damning assessment in the 21st century, Hollywood needs to produce more movies that come down hard on supremacist thought, and sooner rather than later.

It’s hard to tell yet just how well Beneath a Scarlet Sky will fit this requirement. Will the cautionary undertones usually present in these stories be amplified to give the film real and undeniable political utility for modern audiences? Or, will it play out lighter: as an inspiring biopic that features a few Nazi villains? The latter would at least be a step in the right direction (i.e. moving away from The Reader’s approach). I think, though, that a movie that comes with an immediate sense of moral authority and forewarning is more urgently required, since it’ll leave no doubt in  viewers’ minds as to what happens when supremacist thought is allowed to grow unchallenged.

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Farah Cheded is a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects. Outside of FSR, she can be found having epiphanies about Martin Scorsese movies here @AttractionF and reviewing Columbo episodes here.