Steven Spielberg, who has used his film talents to expose the evil of Hitler’s Nazi regime, has an important opportunity to do the same with Stalin’s Russia.
Spielberg exposed Nazi brutality in the film “Schindler’s List,” and in his Shoah Foundation project, which has recorded thousands of eyewitness accounts of the horrors of Hitler’s Germany.
But Variety, the magazine that covers the entertainment industry, is now reporting that he is teaming up with Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings, King Kong) to produce and direct three back-to-back movies based on the character Tintin, a comic-book hero created by George Remi, who wrote under the pen name of Herg?.
This has the potential to expose the failures of communism and socialism because Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, one of Herg?‘s famous comic strip albums, expressed his deep distrust of the Soviet Union and the threat to the world it was becoming.
Remi was an artist who created cartoons for a Belgian newspaper. Born 100 years ago this week, Remi turned his cartoon strips into books. He created the character Tintin in 1929, based on his brother, Paul Remi, who was in the Belgian army. The first story, which ran for about a year and a half, was called Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, and became his first book in the Tintin series out of 23 books that he would eventually create. Estimates are that some 200 million copies of the books have been sold worldwide, and with the publicity machine coming from Spielberg’s Dreamworks, they’re liable to sell another hundred million in the next five years. Apparently there was a 24th Tintin book in the works when Remi died in 1983.
The story of Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, as the others that followed, featured Tintin as a “junior reporter” for a Belgian newspaper who went on various perilous adventures set against the major historical events of his time, including the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, war between China and Japan, and the Cold War. Tintin’s companion was his pet dog Snowy, a fox terrier.
What makes this story fascinating is that Remi exposed the Soviet Union as the phony worker’s paradise it was. He also exposed the evil of Stalin’s regime. This was in sharp contrast to a real life reporter, the New York Times’ Walter Duranty, who won a Pulitzer prize for his articles spreading the lies and propaganda of the Soviet government.
According to this recent account by Yumi Kim, the story of Tintin in the Land of the Soviets includes attempts to kill Tintin and Snowy. Their trip inside the Soviet Union takes them to “an industrial town where English communists are ‘shown the beauties of Bolshevism.’”
“The guide explains that the factories are working to full capacity,” Kim writes. “Tintin and Snowy are curious to find out what happens in these factories so they take a look. They see a man who is simply burning straw to make smoke come out of chimneys to create an illusion that production is in full swing. Furthermore, they see another man who is hammering pieces of metal to make the ‘sounds of machinery.’ While Snowy wonders if it is a Russian jazz band, Tintin says, ‘That’s how the Soviets fool the poor idiots who still believe in a Red Paradise.’”
In another excerpt, Kim writes that “They are holding an election and the officers announce that there is a list of three parties, the first being the Communist Party. They ask people to raise their hands if they are opposed (while pointing guns at the crowd). As no one raises a hand, they declare that the Communist Party has been elected unanimously.”
Kim also tells of Tintin’s discovery of how the Soviets used food as a tool in order to force compliance with the regime. This was before the world knew of the Stalin-created famine in the Ukraine that resulted in the deaths of millions of Soviet citizens who resisted his forced collectivization scheme.
Despite the popularity of Tintin, the New York Times’ Walter Duranty reported the Soviet propaganda, denying any such thing was occurring. Arnold Beichman of the Hoover Institution documented some of Duranty’s lies, and made the case back in 2003 for revoking his Pulitzer Prize. He pointed to an article from March of 1933, in which Duranty wrote that “There is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation but there is widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition.”
History has shown otherwise, most famously documented in historian Robert Conquest’s book, Harvest of Sorrow. The New York Times even acknowledged Duranty’s duplicity: “Taking Soviet propaganda at face value this way was completely misleading, as talking with ordinary Russians might have revealed even at the time. Duranty’s prize-winning articles quoted not a single one?only Stalin, who forced farmers all over the Soviet Union into collective farms and sent those who resisted to concentration camps. Collectivization was the main cause of a famine that killed millions of people in Ukraine, the Soviet breadbasket, in 1932 and 1933?two years after Duranty won his prize.”
In defending its failure to give back the award, the Times cited the Pulitzer Board’s refusal to withdraw it. The Pulitzer Prize Board, most recently in 2003, decided not to revoke it, stating that while Duranty’s work “fell seriously short,” they concluded that “there was not clear and convincing evidence of deliberate deception, the relevant standard in this case.” This remains a stain on both the Times and the Pulitzer Prize Board.
Hopefully Spielberg will choose Tintin in the Land of the Soviets as one of the three films they produce. It was Remi’s first Tintin book, and it is a tragic chapter in history that has received far too little attention. It deserves the Hollywood treatment.