It Does Not Belong in a Museum: Indiana Jones’ Colonizer Legacy

In Black Panther’s now well-known museum scene, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) responds to the museum curator’s assertion, “This stuff aren’t on the market,” with the ever resonant: “How do you suppose your ancestors bought these? You suppose they paid a good value? Or did they take it like they took all the pieces else?”

In three concise sentences, Killmonger summarizes all that’s improper with the trendy museum and the colonizer mentality that displaces sacred gadgets removed from the peoples to whom they belong, with no recourse for return and even acknowledgement of the cultural and social theft that has occurred within the course of. 

Over the course of 4 movies and a fifth on the best way in 2023, archaeologist-adventurer Dr. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is positioned as an American hero as he travels the world in quest of objects and data that he claims will contribute to the collective and international information bases represented by the Western college system.

“It belongs in a museum,” Dr. Jones continually says, firmly situating himself in the very same camp as these whose cultural appropriations he’s continually preventing in opposition to. In accordance with Dr. Jones, these artifacts don’t belong in simply any museum, they particularly belong in his college museum, the place he can conveniently get credit score for securing them. Additionally, Indiana Jones appears to have forgotten that the museums of his personal period aren’t precisely accessible to common audiences, not to mention the peoples from whom the objects have been taken. 

From the views of those that have been violently colonized and skilled the horrors of compelled assimilation and even genocide, the trendy museum just isn’t the bastion of information that Indiana Jones and his allies faux it to be. Fairly, it’s a glorified show of wanton grave-robbing from all over the world, the outcomes of the looting of sacred websites and culturally worthwhile gadgets justified via a lens of white supremacy.

There may be little or no in a museum that truly belongs there. However via the Indiana Jones franchise, the precise reverse is promoted as Dr. Jones and his colleagues proceed an ongoing pillaging undertaking that takes them via Central and South America in addition to the Center East, Africa, and Asia as they meddle within the trafficking of things that categorically don’t belong to them, typically throughout continents. This vicious dynamic is framed inside a white savior narrative that’s inherently racist even earlier than we get to the precise occasions on display screen in Indiana Jones films. 

Raiders of the Misplaced Ark opens with Indiana Jones in Peru breaking right into a tomb, stealing a sacred idol, and changing it with a bag of sand as booby traps set off throughout him. Because of Jones, this one act units off a collection of occasions that lead a bunch of Nazis to the Arc of the Covenant as they search immortality for his or her designs of world domination.

“I hate Nazis,” turns into one other Indiana Jones catchphrase, and he ably defeats a few of them in Raiders. Mockingly, although, Nazis have been truly impressed by the USA’ very personal Jim Crow legal guidelines, centuries of slavery, and institutionalized racism that Nazis actively used and built-in into their campaigns to get rid of Jews, Romani, disabled, and LGBTQ communities altogether.

Raiders may need taken place in 1936, however Jones’ narrative distancing from the truth of his personal period truly displays a 1981 perspective that had already begun whitewashing the slavery and segregation eras of American historical past via this journey story. There are a number of ranges of colonization happening in Spielberg’s opus, extending far previous what’s on display screen. 

Issues solely worsen because the franchise rolls on via the years. As a Sri Lankan American who has lived in India, I’ve discovered myself haunted by Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom‘s open racism in opposition to Asian international locations and cultures as monoliths. From its Chinese language villains to Indian ones, Temple of Doom actually demonizes Asian individuals on display screen, presenting Indians particularly as snake and monkey-brain consuming savages who kidnap and subjugate kids whereas worshiping a demonic fictionalized model of Hindu goddess Kali who calls for human sacrifice.

If I had a greenback for each time somebody has requested me what monkey brains style like I may put a down cost on a home, even on this financial system. Worse, Temple of Doom wasn’t even filmed in India. It was truly filmed in Sri Lanka; you possibly can even hear the villagers talking Sinhala within the fore and background, not Hindi.

Right here we see Indiana Jones’ colonizer, white savior mentality infest the display screen as Spielberg collapses two distinct cultures into one Brown lump for white audiences, accurately assuming no person would know the distinction between India and Sri Lanka, and endlessly setting a cultural wallpaper that features ranges of depravity and savagery many years later that real-life South Asians nonetheless can’t escape when within the Western gaze. 

Within the subsequent Jones journey, The Final Campaign, the person in a panama hat (Paul Maxwell) who uncovers the Cross of Coronado in Utah {that a} younger Indy (River Phoenix) fights as a young person is framed as a villain. But, Indy goes on to base his area “look” as an grownup on this supposed villain. Indy believes himself to be higher as a result of his motivation isn’t cash however reasonably mental colonization — as if that’s by some means extra noble. It isn’t.

All of the whereas, this third installment of the Indiana Jones franchise conveniently leaves out how the Knights of the Crusades have been themselves colonizing forces throughout the Center East and Europe, changing individuals by drive and mass murdering those that refused. It additionally as soon as once more frames Nazis in opposition to good People, leaving out essential items of the USA’s historical past that impressed the Nazi’s genocide and international domination initiatives.  

By the top of Temple of Doom and Final Campaign, we discover out that Indiana Jones truly does perceive that some issues categorically don’t belong in a museum. In Temple of Doom he returns the Shivalingum stones of the Mayapore individuals to them, restoring their thriving village and overthrowing the evil maharaja (who was backed by colonial British forces). By the top of Final Campaign he realizes that some objects are too highly effective for public consciousness, not to mention consumption as he permits the Holy Grail to vanish into the deep mountain cavern of Alexandretta.

This means that Indy has all the time identified that museums aren’t the top all, be all repositories for artifacts. He solely applies that information selectively. When Indiana Jones returns 20 years later in The Kingdom of the Crystal Cranium, for the primary time he’s dragged right into a lethal artifact hunt in opposition to his will. However his racist and culturally insensitive quips haven’t modified, nor does he but have the self-awareness to acknowledge he’s precisely the identical because the colonizers on the market in search of to complement themselves or unnaturally improve their energy. 

Finally it’s not simply Indiana Jones who’s a colonizer, it’s additionally your complete artistic workforce of Spielberg and firm who’ve and proceed to advertise a racist, colonial gaze many years previous its expiration date. Reviving a franchise as problematic as this one within the present context of encroaching fascism in the USA and whitewashing American historical past in colleges in order to not make the colonizers’ descendants really feel badly about their previous sends the alternative message to what we’d like.

Even when Indiana Jones 5 situates itself within the civil rights period of the Sixties, will it handle and take accountability for all of its personal colonizer legacy through the years? Or will it bury its head in unacknowledged previous missteps, persevering with to advertise a traditionally inaccurate model of an American good man with a gun? If it’s not self-reflective and retroactively professing attrition for the various harms the figurehead and tales have triggered, we categorically don’t want it. 

What we do want is for museums to return all of the gadgets they’ve looted from all over the world, and most particularly the sacred and spiritual ones.


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