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The only thing dumber than the #HandsOffAnastasia Twitter uproar is the truly dreadful movie that sparked it

Michael McCaffrey
Michael McCaffrey

Michael McCaffrey is a writer and cultural critic who lives in Los Angeles. His work can be read at RT, Counterpunch and at his website mpmacting.com/blog. He is also the host of the popular cinema podcast Looking California and Feeling Minnesota. Follow him on Twitter @MPMActingCo

Michael McCaffrey is a writer and cultural critic who lives in Los Angeles. His work can be read at RT, Counterpunch and at his website mpmacting.com/blog. He is also the host of the popular cinema podcast Looking California and Feeling Minnesota. Follow him on Twitter @MPMActingCo

The only thing dumber than the #HandsOffAnastasia Twitter uproar is the truly dreadful movie that sparked it
Some Russians have taken offence at Anastasia Romanov’s cartoonish depiction in a low-budget movie released earlier this year. They shouldn’t waste their energy on a criminally stupid piece of film making.

In case you haven’t heard, #HandsOffAnastasia is the outrage du jour on Twitter. If you were unaware of this controversy, I deeply envy you. Here is a quick breakdown of how #HandsOffAnastasia came to be.

In spring this year, a terrible movie titled Anastasia: Once Upon a Time came and went and no one cared because it was laughably low-budget and hysterically awful. The film is a live action kids’ movie that tells a fantastical tale of Anastasia Romanov time traveling, with the help of a wizardly Rasputin, from Russia in 1918 to Madison, Wisconsin in 1988 in order to evade Vladimir Lenin and Yara the Enchantress’s malevolent grip. To give you an indication of the caliber of movie that Anastasia: Once Upon a Time is, here are some highlights: Rasputin has a breakdance battle at a mall, plays video games and models in a fashion show, there are some absurdly random musical numbers, and a Filipino comedian plays Lenin.

I am no expert on Russian history, but I am pretty sure the film is not entirely historically accurate. And this is where the outrage comes in. Apparently, some Russians are up in arms that ‘Hollywood’ would denigrate Russian history and besmirch a Sainted Russian figure like Anastasia Romanov – who was brutally murdered by the Bolsheviks at age 17 with the rest of her family – by comically re-imagining her tragic tale. Thus #HandsOffAnastasia was born.

More kindling on the #HandsOffAnastasia fire is a clip from the film circulating online that shows Anastasia eating spaghetti with her hands, thus implying she, and all Russians, are uncivilized barbarians. Sadly, for me, this whole #HandsOffAnastasia situation forced me to watch this stupid movie. My assessment is this: how do you say “much ado about nothing” in Russian?

Firstly, Anastasia: Once Upon a Time is obscenely amateurish and ridiculously imbecilic, but it doesn’t make Anastasia out to be some Neanderthal anti-princess. The spaghetti-eating scene isn’t mean-spirited or even ‘anti-Russian’, it is just unconscionably lazy movie making.

The other thing, and this is the most important point, is that this film is so inconsequential as to be absurd. Why anyone, anywhere, would care what it says or does is beyond me.

This is not some ‘Hollywood’ big-budget operation backed by the marketing muscle of Disney. The movie was produced by Conglomerate Media and distributed by Freestyle Digital Media, who are not exactly Hollywood heavyweights. In fact, they don’t even qualify as flyweights, or even Hollywood for that matter, which is why no one had ever heard of this film until this silly controversy.

The budget for the film is bare bones, and it shows in the locations, cheap special effects and shabby costumes. Whatever money they did have seems to have been almost entirely spent acquiring the rights to the Cindi Lauper song Time After Time, which it uses liberally (without Lauper’s pricey vocals) throughout the film for no discernible reason.

If I could point to one remarkable thing about Anastasia: Once Upon a Time it would be that it boasts the largest collection of the worst Russian accents ever captured on film at one time.  The biggest star in the movie is Brandon Routh, who plays Tsar Nicholas II. Once upon a time Routh played Superman on the big screen, and in Anastasia he reveals his kryptonite is twofold: acting and a Russian accent.

The film is produced by Armando Gutierrez, who also did no one a favor by casting himself in the critical role of Rasputin. The film would have been better served casting an inanimate carbon rod in the role instead of Gutierrez.

The only interesting thing about this movie is that on its IMDB page, it actually lists Anastasia Romanoff as one of the screenwriters. That is an intriguing marketing ploy but simply cannot be true, because if the real Anastasia ever had to watch this dreadful movie she would run into the basement and shoot herself just to end the misery and embarrassment.I am sure that last joke offended some people, but here is the thing: if you have the time and energy to get upset about that lame joke or about this nonsensically preposterous movie, then you really need to get a life.

This isn’t to say that Hollywood, like the rest of America, isn’t Russophobic. It certainly is. It isn’t to say that Americans aren’t historically illiterate about Russia and ignorant about Russians. They certainly are. It is to say that this third rate clownshow of a movie is so laughably trivial that it should never ever generate any emotion, be it positive or negative, from anyone, anywhere.

#HandsOffAnastasia is, like so much of Twitter culture, a function of people with too much time on their hands searching high and low, far and wide for something, anything about which to be offended.

In conclusion, the hyper-sensitive Russian woke folk of #HandsOffAnastasia desperately need to keep their hands off Twitter and go out and re-connect with their heritage by doing truly Russian things… like competing in a break dancing battles at the mall, or modeling in impromptu fashion shows, or eating spaghetti with their hands.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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