As an American abroad, you hear a lot of stereotypes: Americans are loud, narcissistic, obsessed with guns and can’t even point out another country on a map. There’s a whole host of often unflattering adjectives that come with the territory of “American.”
About a month ago, I was standing outside during a film shoot to tell passersby to keep quiet during takes when a second-year student approached me. I’d met him once, on my first day of studying abroad at Prague Film School, when the school threw a party to acclimatize the newcomers. He asked if I would act in his upcoming short film, and I graciously accepted. “Great,” he said. “I’ve been looking for Americans to play flat-Earthers.”
I was nervous for the shoot, particularly when I learned most of the cast was from the American South. Since coming to Boston, my Southern heritage has been a sore point. The belief that Southerners are less intellectual, cultured or morally sound is unfortunately far too widespread, especially among our northern counterparts. I’ve had people ask me who I voted for before they even know my name. They’ve asked me if my grandma is racist. Weirdly, I was once asked by a Massachusetts native I’d met an hour beforehand if my high school taught Holocaust denial, to which I responded, “God, people from Mass. believe everything they read.” I’m not being casual when I say myself and other friends occasionally have to fight to be taken seriously once people learn we are from Texas, Oklahoma or Alabama, and that wasn’t a narrative I was excited to further overseas. When I visit my English relatives, the ridicule doubles; I find myself being questioned on national policy by an audience who procured their American expertise from “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
Nevertheless, being on that set was some of the most fun I’ve ever had. Surrounded by other Southerners, the shoot didn’t feel like a taunt, but a reclaiming — an opportunity to make fun of ourselves. The director, who was from Turkey, started giving orders in his own freshly developed Southern accent. We sang “Take Me Home, Country Roads” (1971) by John Denver between takes. For one scene we staged a fake protest, proffering a banner that read: “WAKE UP, IT’S FLAT!” Groups of people stopped to watch. The street’s residents poked their heads out the window, wondering where the racket was coming from. They saw the backwards baseball caps before they heard the American accents, and I’m sure they thought we were serious. I didn’t mind.
It’s been said the problem with satire is that most people think it’s serious. You can worry about it, or you can shoot your film and let the chips fall where they may. Moviemaking is an excuse to leave your ego at the door, and sometimes that means joining a fake flat-Earth campaign. At the very least, it’ll make you less sensitive about yourself.