What Hollywood Thinks of Poland

Time to Stop Stereotypes

Time to Stop Stereotypes

“I will follow you to the end of the world, even to Poland or Beirut!” says the main character of the film “HappyThankyou-MorePlease”. The comparison of Poland to the capital city of Lebanon says a lot about what Americans think of Poland. Generally speaking, Polish characters are portrayed as people with lower social status, heavy-drinkers or sometimes people who come from an archaic country where time has stopped (around the 19th century). Dustin Hoffman’s directorial début, “Quartet”, includes a hint of Polishness, however, it is introduced in such a way that only Polish people or people who know Polish will notice it. In one scene, a person responsible for looking after an elderly pensioner says “niemożliwe” (pol. ‘impossible’), and that’s all. An entire string of dialogue can be heard in “The Fugitive”. The Poles portrayed in the film are drug dealers living in a ‘typical’ Polish apartment, with pictures of Pope John Paul II and and the Virgin Mary hanging on the walls. Polish people also appear in American TV series. Not wanting to break the stereotype, a Polish woman in “The Sopranos” is a cleaner. However, there is a Pole with a different occupation in “Boardwalk Empire”. In the series, the Polish character changes his surname to ‘Doyle’ – he is a gangster who makes moonshine. There is also a salesman from Poland in “Boardwalk Empire”. Chandler, in the popular sitcom “Friends”, bizarrely says, “If I can invade Poland, I can do anything”. In another TV series, “Gossip Girl”, we are introduced to Dorota, a cleaner who is played by an actress from Poland. Moreover, “Gossip Girl” is full of scenes where we can hear Polish. On the other hand, Poland’s ‘honour’ is restored by Clint Eastwood who created the character of Walt Kowalski, in “Gran Torino”. He is called “Polack” several times in the film and for most of the movie he is not liked by most of the other characters, however, as the film progresses, he becomes a more positive character, perhaps even a hero. This is surprising as it is difficult to find films where Polish people are shown in a positive light. The exception being characters in historical films. As a side note, in Oscar-nominated “Zero Dark Thirty”, a film about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, there is a scene which takes place in Gdańsk where CIA agents interrogate a person suspected of terrorism. What is interesting is the fact that the Polish authorities have still not admitted that terrorists were imprisoned and tortured in Poland. The film may, however, make it more difficult for Poland’s former Prime Minister Leszek Miller and his government to defend their position.

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  1. Jim · January 24, 2014

    And don’t forget ‘A very Polish practice’. And Borat: ‘Jagsiemasz?’ ;>


  2. Raf Uzar · January 26, 2014

    Too right!


  3. Zosia · January 27, 2014

    In “Quartet” there is more Polish spoken in the background than you mentioned. The cleaning ladies in the retirees’ home are Polish and they speak Polish to each other as they go about their daily duties. However this dialogue is never translated with the use of subtitles for the English audience.


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