The Dunkirk Debate

A recent USA Today review of Dunkirk highlighted a lack of female characters, as well as people of colour. Although the review largely spoke positively of the film, sadly these comments were pounced upon by political pundits and many from the right wing.

Let me be clear; Dunkirk is a film in which historical accuracy is of paramount importance. And Christopher Nolan spent countless hours trying to replicate the scenes, conditions and aura of dread surrounding this ghastly moment in British history.


The reality of Dunkirk however is that it did largely involve young white males fighting against young white males. To alter this moment in history for the sake of inclusion would be a terrible injustice to the story, and to those involved.

Is it simply absurd to suggest that history is being 'whitewashed' by portraying in a realistic manner.

Let me put things in perspective; At the time, the British Empire encompassed large parts of the globe. British colonial forces played an enormous role in fighting fascism and its counterpart in the form of Japanese imperialism. Indians, Pakistanis, Nepalese, Africans – they all played a role.

As did women.

It would be a great crime to forget the magnificent efforts of women during the Second World War. The homefront, intelligence, manufacturing and production industries; Women played a huge role in all of these.


Those who claim that the history of World War Two is somehow being whitewashed in Dunkirk are unequivocally incorrect, and we should not seek to alter history purely to meet current social norms and culture. The film simply tells the story as it was, and visually, it contains a lot of white people, that is the reality.

The flip side to this however comes in the form of the right wing. Individuals from this end of the political spectrum were the first to pounce upon these comments and their attacks were unrelenting.

What I find particularly interesting in their grievances – focused firmly on the idea of 'altering history' is that they themselves are often the first to do so. The political right has a habit of ignoring blatant hypocrisies and terrible events in world history, and instead choosing to focus on the positives on a broad range of topics.

DFM9kOSU0AAI50EA primary example being of course European colonialism and the British Empire. A YouGov poll revealed that a large portion of those polled in the UK believed that the British Empire was a good thing. The British Empire gave the world many positives, but it committed many unspeakable acts of cruelty, all in the name of 'progress'.

Additionally, it has long been a trend in western culture to portray the west as superior; more culturally, socially and economically advanced. Although in certain periods this is true to an extent, our focus being placed firmly on the west completely disregards the fact that throughout human history great advances have been made in other regions, specifically Asia and the Middle East.

In school we do not learn of the Chinese, who were experiencing unparalleled growth and advancement when Europe wallowed in conflict and feudalism – which amounted to nothing more than slavery. We do not learn about scientific and philosophical enlightenment in the Islamic world while Europe, again, wallowed in a dark age.

My realisation of this selective history in the mind of the right wing came when Paul Joseph Watson posted this picture on Twitter:

Accompanied by this comment:

"Thank God the BBC is portraying Roman Britain as ethnically diverse.

"I mean, who cares about historical accuracy, right?"

Days before this post he and others within the right wing echo chamber heavily criticised the USA Today review. Can he not see the blatant hypocrisy here? You cannot claim that one group is altering history to meet a political agenda, then yourself proceed to alter history.

Roman Britain was a diverse place. There is an abundance of archaeological evidence to support this. When we consider the fact that the Roman Empire stretched all the way to the Near East and along the coast of North Africa, it would be absurd to suggest that the empire was an exclusively white Latin entity.

The early days of the empire seen an army made up purely of Roman citizens, but as the empire expanded, it could not be manned by Romans alone. As such, peoples from their conquered territories were recruited in auxiliary roles, and later in the role of combat troops.

The Roman Empire was a cultural melting pot, and although the end goal was of course to Romanise the world, the reality is that it was a multicultural and racially diverse place.

I know the right abhors the idea of multiculturalism and diversity, but like you said, you cannot alter history. Roman Britain certainly would have had North African or Middle-Eastern people in it, as well as peoples from the Balkans, Germany and the Iberian Peninsula.

It appears to me as nothing more than grievance mongering. Yes, cinematic portrayals of historical events often contain fictional characters to add to the story. And yes at times they are of a racial profile not fitting the time, but to claim that history is being irrevocably altered by this is false – Studios are simply pandering to a wide range of people.

It is strange, I've not seen widespread anger from the right when films such as 'The Wall' or 'Exodus: Gods & Kings' were released; selective ire and hypocrisy.

Both sides of the political spectrum are wrong in this case. History, as they say, is written by the victor and so at times our perception of things can be skewed. Every nation, people or movement views their own actions as just or moral and so again our perception can be altered. Political movements for time immemorial have altered history to suit a political agenda, you need look no further than the portrayal of the Persians when encountering the Greeks.

The left does try to alter history to ensure 'inclusion' – and wrongfully so. The right ignores and disregards historical accuracy to meet its own narrative.

The answer is simple; Stop altering history to suit your agenda, and stop claiming that others are altering it, all the while doing it yourself. Educate yourself and when possible, seek objective sources. History is not straight forward, it has many angles, but all I see here is a cheap attempt to conjure resentment and discord.


5 thoughts on “The Dunkirk Debate

Add yours

    1. Given the institution of slavery in the Roman Empire it would likely have been slaves. However there are instances of non-Romans holding public offices.

      The ‘with us or against us’ strategy also worked, especially in Britain, which experienced massive growth under Roman rule. Many after a while would have seen the positives of Roman rule.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Back on Dunkirk: While I appreciate what Nolan did right, I missed the scope the film might have had were there more cutaways to the building wave of support among sailors and their families–women and at least some minorities included–back in Britain. Nothing anti-historical about that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed. The film did miss aspects that I was disappointed in; Primarily the defence efforts of the French military, and also the valiant holding of the lines by hastily organised British regiments.

      Thousands were killed or left behind because they held their positions and bought time for the evacuation.

      Liked by 1 person

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