Propaganda: Movies and their Message

According to, the term “propaganda” is information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.

In theory, propaganda is, or should be, neutral — hence using it to spread information relating to public health. In Spanish, we even use the term when referring to commercials. However, the very idea of “helping or harming” a subject makes the neutrality of the term void. If propaganda were neutral, it would only inform. If propaganda only informed, it would be educational — and education isn’t neutral either, but that’s a subject for another post.

Wikipedia puts it best:

“Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position so as to benefit oneself or one’s group.”

The main thought behind propaganda is to promote an idea, and as V said, “Ideas are bulletproof” — until you think about them way too much and you start finding plot holes bigger than any plot hole in a time-travel movie.

Or the ideas get so dated that they get replaced for a newer one that works much better, like the dinosaur concepts in Jurassic Park.

Ideas evolve, your way of thinking develops in time to go with the current, or sometimes to go against it.


YAM Magazine editor, photographer, blogger, translator and part-time web designer. Film junkie, music junkie… and lately series (a.k.a. TV) junkie.

18 Responses

  1. Camiele says:

    Fantastic post! I think you have a valid point. We may as well consider any film that’s released in America a propaganda film, spreading the good word about the “American Dream”, while anything that shows America in a negative light a propagand film meant ot think of America as the root of all evil. It’s crazy. Just as films were used to spread messages in the earlier part of the 20th century, so do people deem films propaganda that spreads a message they don’t like.

    I think people need to do themselves a favour and read a damn book. Besides, it’s always good to get an outside perspective about the country you live in to understand more about one’s culture….anyway I think so.

    Great article Ames :)

    • amy says:

      @Camiele, oh yeah – I’m the generation of “America, the land of dreams.” It reminds me of the story my mother told me, she was a kid watching a movie on TV where the Americans were the heroes and, I think, they were fighting the Chinese or something. My mother at an impressionable age said “que malos son los chinos” (how mean are the chinese).

      So I just think one side accuses the other for propaganda when everyone does it. It’s like a lot of people don’t realize (or don’t want to) that whatever the media feeds them is nothing but what a group of people wants them to know. The only difference is… the Chinese at least know that they’re media is state control. ;O

      • Camiele says:

        @amy, HaHa. “The only difference is… the Chinese at least know that they’re media is state control.” = WIN!

        That’s exactly true. I think Americans know, but they refuse to a) believe, b) care, or c) a combination of the two. Tis sad, really. And from that (self-imposed) ignorance comes even more hatred, even more racism (classism, sexism, etc.), even more misunderstanding. All because it seems easier to just allow someone to tell you how to think than to actually do it on your own and realise that people are just people and we’re all humans. It sickens me that people can be so blind be so okay with it.

        • amy says:

          @Camiele, I think part of it might be entitlement, but I guess that entitlement comes from misunderstanding and ignorance as well.

          Telling other people how to live their lives, if they should keep their babies, if they should marry someone of the same sex, if they should be pro-America or pro-China or pro-socialism or pro-capitalism. You’re either pro-environment or pro-advancement of society.

          I think that’s why documentaries are so hard to review for me hahaha – and I always love that docus say “we tried to contact such and such for this documentary, but no one was available for interview” just to shake off your basis in bias. I don’t mind it much, as long as I learn something new about an issue… but it bothered me a lot in The Cove, just because it was so praised. LOL That review must have made me look like I’m an animal-eating dolphin-hatin pro-Japanese fishing b1tch xD

  2. Camiele says:

    @amy, I’ve heard of The Cove but never actually saw it. I’ll have to attempt to check it out, thoguh knowing how poorly I did at the movies last year means that may not actually happen…HaHa.

    As far as entitlement goes, the Europeans have pretty much decided from the 16th century that they were entitled to any and everything, so they pretty much write history. If that’s the case (and I believe it is), then everything is basically going to be pro-“expansion” and anti-socials/communism/any -ism that isn’t captialsm. So, there ya go.

    Documentaries at least are the most honest in what they do…they pick a subject matter (already, a bias) and decide whose side they’re going to cover and go for it. You’ll get all thei nformation from one side and partial information from another. It’s no less true, but slightly skewed depending on who the documenter supports — a fact that is usually plain from the title. Docus are, in fact, my favourite type of film. I, like you, just enjoy learning more and more. The most unbiasedly biased art form is the documentary (or B&W photography…HaHa).

    • amy says:

      @Camiele, well… I’m not actually animal-loving, but there was a time where I fell for PETA stuff LOL but I never turned vegetarian or anything, but I did care about animal cruelty. However, as one grows older and wiser, you start seeing PETA as just… ugh. LOL

      I remember when the first wave of controversy for The Cove came, it wasn’t allowed to screen as the opening film at the Tokyo Film Festival, and there was a huge outcry from the producers of the film because it was supposed to be a “green carpet” and they felt their docu was entitled to open the film because of its subject… nevermind that the Tokyo Film Festival can choose whatever film they wanted to open the festival.

      I remember at that time, it was October I think, I said that it would win the Oscar for best docu because dolphins are cute just like March of the Penguins was super cute hahaha. Lo and behold! It won! I didn’t even need to watch it to call that one.

      I felt it was a sappy docu about finger-pointing what was wrong with a culture that was different. To the documentary, the fishermen families were nothing but uncivilized people who killed dolphins for no reason. It made me really angry hahaha it made me even more angry that a lot of people praised it when… well, it was propaganda too LOL So there you go~

      • Camiele says:

        @amy, I see. That’s why I heard of it…HaHa. Yeah, I love docus…but I’ll admit that a great many of them piss me off. Dolphins are cute (though, they’re mean as hell in real life), so I wouldn’t be able to actually watch it as I thought I would…HaHA. Deep down I’m the world’s biggest softie. HaHa.

        • amy says:

          @Camiele, there’s a point in that docu where the dude goes on and affirms that the dolphin he was taking care of committed suicide because he was miserable in the aquarium.

          However, instead of targeting aquariums who swear to preserve nature but buy dolphins caught in the wilderness for shows, he targets the fishermen who’ve grown up generation after generation hunting dolphins.

  3. Good article, amy. I thought that Scar’s reign ended up that way due to being greedy and upsetting the balance of nature. I remember going to a Disney World show of the Lion King some time after it was released, and they were big on the environmental message of balanced ecology. Although you are right in pointing out the hierarchy of said balance. In this human-created story promoting environmental balance, the hyenas end up at the bottom again. This is interesting to compare with Avatar, which I haven’t seen but I know associates environmental balance with the aliens that the humans consider inferior.

    • amy says:

      @chrryblssmninja, you are right, it was the balance of nature, which is completely normal. Unfair to some animals, but normal. But it’s super interesting to see that in contrast to what’s going on in the world right now… and compared to Planets and Avatar xD

      I saw a very interesting post that compared Avatar to the US occupation in Iraq, and how the Iraqi audience saw American soldiers. I guess Avatar means something different to different people hehe. But to be honest, Avatar isn’t worth the watch if there’s no 3D so I wouldn’t recommend you watching it on a TV hahaha.

  4. Juan Barquin says:

    I have to admit, I loved this article but I wish I could have added a few Disney shorts from WWII. It’s shocking just how shameless Walt Disney was during that time period and how they used their shorts for propaganda. There are plenty of them, but a great example is one with Donald Duck, titled Der Fuehrer’s Face ( that is pretty amusing but you can definitely see just how much it would influence American audiences into buying war bonds. It also won Best Animated Short Film at the Academy Awards which always amuses me so much more. There’s also Donald Gets Drafter, The New Spirit, Sky Trooper and some more. Let’s not even go into the other cartoon shows because there are so many it’s not even funny.

    • amy says:

      @Juan Barquin, I didn’t want to go that far back on film. LOL But I LOVE Der Fuehrer’s Face! xD I mean, yeah it’s pure propaganda but it’s so fun. LOL or maybe it’s because it’s Donald.

      I also grew up with Popeye cartoons, and I clearly remember the episodes featuring the Japanese soldiers. The slanted eyes, the big (super huge) teeth… propaganda dubbed in Spanish and broadcast all way into the late 80s and early 90s. But honestly, the only thing Popeye did to me was get me to eat a lot of spinach.

      I think propaganda films that are blunt are the easier to swallow because you can see easily through them. It’s the other films that scare me the most… anyway, if a film it’s entertaining or technically well whether or not you agree with the message, people shouldn’t pan the film for it.

  5. giacomo says:

    海の神兵 really is divine

    • amy says:

      @giacomo, of course it is! It’s hard to imagine that’s the first animated feature length they did… it’s pretty smooth. Plus that… a i u e o, ka ki ku ke ko song xD

  6. Castor says:

    Excellent and thought-provoking article Amy! It’s certainly true that anything that seems to go excessively against our values or assumptions will tend to be seen as “propaganda”. I haven’t seen The Flowers of War but certainly, I’m sure that parts of the film are exaggerated to make the Chinese soldiers heroic and selfless while depicting the Japanese as barbaric and cruel. If it’s exaggerated for political reasons then it probably is propaganda.

    • amy says:

      @Castor, oops. I forgot to answer this one.

      Actually, to my understanding, there weren’t any soldiers fighting off the Japanese in Nanjing, and the guy in the film was a civilian with barely any ammo to fight of the Japanese army. I didn’t think the film was exaggerated for political reasons, the accounts of the Nanjing Massacre from the survivors and victims are terrifying on their own, and many of the comments against the film is that it lacks the horror of the event… except it’s done for a reason.

      Anyway, let me know when you get to see this one.

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