Playing games in Hunters: who is served by on-screen violence?

Depicting violence on screen is a tricky line to walk, but its impact is incredibly important

Whether we want to admit it or not, everyone is looking to be represented on screen to some degree. When we see people who look, behave, and think like us on screen, it validates our own experiences of the world.

As a cis, white Jew, I feel fairly well-represented by mainstream media. I grew up on all the Ashkenazi classics like Fiddler on the Roof and Seinfeld, and as an adult, I have my “problematic faves” in Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Schmidt from New Girl. Yet, despite seeing a good amount of myself on screen, when I heard about the new Amazon Original, Hunters, I was immediately intrigued. 

Hunters chronicles a fictional ragtag gang of Nazi-hunters in 1970s New York City who are brought together in response to Operation Paperclip, the astonishingly real U.S. program which scrubbed the records of Nazi scientists in order to bring them to work on the space race. Many of the Nazi-hunters in the show are Holocaust survivors. And as the descendant of survivors, I have become so sick of survivors’ depictions only ever being helpless, feeble victims. Also, it had been over a decade since the release of Inglorious Basterds, and with the rise of the alt-right around the world, it felt like the perfect time for another piece of mainstream kickass anti-fascist media. Yet, sadly, I quickly realized Hunters would not be that.  

From the get-go, I was struck by an onslaught of intense depictions of Holocaust violence in Hunters. It seemed like every third scene was a flashback to the camps, and every one involving more stylized killing than the last. Very few of these scenes even served the narrative as a whole. Additionally, I was jarred by the now heavily criticized scene in which the show depicts a completely fabricated “human chess game” run by Nazi guards at a concentration camp. This scene was so gratuitous and removed from reality that the Auschwitz Museum tweeted that it was “dangerous foolishness and caricature.”

So, if this sensationally violent chess game never actually happened, why depict it in a show based on the true events surrounding Operation Paperclip?

In my opinion, the unnecessary use of violence in Hunters exists to convince viewers of why the gang is in the right for hunting Nazis. The perception is that non-Jewish audiences need to be reminded of the atrocities of the Holocaust in order to understand the anger felt by the Jewish and otherwise racialized characters in the show. That is a major problem that lies within this show and many other historical dramas. These narratives are expecting their viewers to be apathetic. The baseline feeling is indifference, and viewers must be moved to anti-racism, rather than anti-racism being the default.

While some effective anti-racist media can exist to “convert” people and bring them over from a bigoted point of view to understanding, that should not be the majority of the content that is being made. When mainstream film and TV narratives expect their audiences to be antisemetic, for example, it perpetuates the idea that people are by default antisemetic and must learn to be accepting, rather than the reality that antisemitism, racism, homophobia and so on are learned ideologies. Thus, antisemitism, racism, and homophobia are thought of as “making sense.” Audiences should not need to be convinced why Nazis are the “bad guys.” And by using so much gratuitous violence to make that point, it opens up the possibility of bad faith, “both sides” arguments.

How to properly depict historical violence on screen is a difficult line to walk. On one hand, you don’t want to sanitize history and belittle the real horror experienced by many. Yet, you also don’t want to use violence in a way that dips into the waters of fetishism and exploitation.

This has been an ongoing conversation most notably when it comes to depicting slavery in the United States on film. The response to the 2013 film 12 Years a Slave exemplifies this issue. As Katarina Hedrén writes for Africa is a Country, some critics believed the film to be a “horror show” and devoid of the history of slave revolt and others believed it white washed history through having a “happy ending.” The debate over the use of historical violence in film is not an easy one to maneuver, but it is an important conversation to have regardless.

Ultimately, when writers insert unnecessary violence into their projects, it makes it more difficult for viewers to connect to their characters. No one wants to see themselves as the victim time and time again. Once I finished Hunters, though I had absolutely no business watching past the first episode (but hey, COVID boredom), I recognized that even though Hunters was about Jews, it wasn’t for us. I know the terrible history of violence my people have been put under since, well, the written word. I don’t need to see dozens of depictions of it on screen to understand. I just wish there were more narratives that show a more empowered image.

Graphic by Rose-Marie Dion


Spotlight on Tyra Maria Trono

Tyra Maria Trono, 3rd year Photography

Tyra Maria Trono is a filipina artist based in Montreal. Her work deals with personal themes such as individual identity and her direct social communities. It’s connected in a system of meaning that deals with the idea of the revival of childhood and the continual discovery of personal identity which encompasses the notion of her culture heritage. Themes of nostalgia, autobiography, and identity are often explored in her photography.

Tyra Maria Trono is currently a third-year photography student at Concordia University. She has previously exhibited work at several galleries around Montreal, most notably Le Livart (3980 St Denis) in 2018. She has also co-curated the first edition of Festival du Nouveau Cinema: Spotlight on Concordia University Fine Arts.

In 2017, she founded a photo collective called “For the Sake of Analog” alongside Edson Niebla Rogil and John Mendoza. Their mandate is to exhibit the richness and diversity represented by emerging POC artists through the medium of analog photography. Last year, the collective was part of the programming for the Mural Festival. Currently, they are working on their first photo book coming out in April 2020.


Outside her artistic practice, Trono has photographed for projects and events for Boiler Room, Moonshine, Lez Spread The Word, Éklectik Média, The Woman Power and Never Was Your Average.

Trono is also involved with the Filipino Organization of Concordia Students. After a hiatus of over 10 years, the club returned in 2019. The club’s mandate is to connect students, celebrate Filipino identity, and challenge issues that touch Filipino youth. Currently, she is working on a variety show and art exhibition, titled Show Pao, which will feature local Filipino artists.

Trono will also be facilitating an exhibition for the 20th anniversary of Art Matters. The exhibition, As to be Told investigates the ways in which stories can be articulated through artworks and how we translate personal or collective notions through narrative forms.

As to be Told will be open at Galerie Luz (372 Ste. Catherine St. W, suite 41) from March 17 to 21, with a vernissage on March 18, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

For more information visit .


Sharing stories of family and cultural identity

Concordia student Carol Nguyen shows self-discovery and reflection in captivating films

Carol Nguyen is the director, writer and editor of eight short films—she is also 19 years old. The undergraduate student at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema found success at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) as a three-time winner of the Jump Cuts award for young filmmakers in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Nguyen is also an ambassador of the Share

Her Journey campaign, a TIFF initiative to raise awareness about gender equality in film. Additionally, she attended the 2018 Sundance Film Festival as an Ignite fellow to establish and develop connections in the film industry.

The common thread among the Toronto-born filmmaker’s notable works, like How Do You Pronounce Pho? (2014), This Home is Not Empty (2015), and recently, Every Grain of Rice (2017), is her use of distinct aesthetic forms and voiceover presences.

Born from personal struggles and understandings, the films don’t adhere to traditional documentary mediums, varying in their use of live action, animation, archives and miniatures. Nguyen’s work plays with the way we perceive reality and embraces creative techniques that are truthful to the filmmaker’s stories. She is a committed filmmaker and returns to consistent themes throughout her body of work.

As a child who grew up in a hybrid Vietnamese-Canadian household, Nguyen’s cultural identity is a prominent feature of her films. In one of her first shorts, How Do You Pronounce Pho?, she explores this hybridity. Told from her perspective as a teenager, the film shows Nguyen as she realizes the cultural differences between her school peers and herself. “Food was a metaphor for me trying to blend into another culture,” the filmmaker explained. “When you are young, you don’t think about complex ideas like that, and it comes out in the most simple things, like your school lunches and comments, as microaggressions.”

Nguyen’s film, Every Grain of Rice (2017), explores the relationship between food and cultural assimilation.

In this work, Nguyen shows her interest in the topic of hybrid culture. Her narration describes her experience tasting “culturally unstable” Western concepts of ethnic cuisine versus authentic Vietnamese meals cooked by her mother. The film empowers the candid young voice while still considering it in the process of learning about cultural hybridity.

How Do You Pronounce Pho? reflects on the process of learning not to limit ourselves to certain groups and languages. For Nguyen, it’s important to interact, collaborate and share ideas with others in a multicultural society. “Not to do so would mean missing enriching and impending stories and experiences,” she said.

As beautiful as hybrid culture can be, it can also be frightening. Three years after making How Do You Pronounce Pho?, Nguyen explored her fears in Every Grain of Rice, a film that delves into the relationship between food and cultural assimilation. She addressed the cultural assimilation that follows each generation. While emotionally attached to some of her parents’ Vietnamese traditions, the young filmmaker doesn’t substantially continue them, but holds the last tie with Vietnamese culture in her family.

“When my parents die, everything that goes along with my Vietnamese culture will die with them,” Nguyen said. “I’m not going to carry the recipes and the stories that they have.”

Thinking of topics for her films wasn’t always so clear for Nguyen. In 11th grade, Nguyen experienced a bout of writer’s block and became extremely uninspired. “I was stumped. I didn’t know what to make a film about,” she said. “Something that helped me was my teachers getting me back to the roots of film, back to my personal roots, asking questions like: ‘Why are you making this type of film? Why does it matter to you?’”

This Home is Not Empty (2015) is centred around a miniature paper replica of Nguyen’s childhood home.

What followed was This Home is Not Empty, in which Nguyen tried to portray her nostalgia for childhood. Using paper, she created a highly detailed miniature of her childhood home. The small-scale house is abandoned, sitting in a studio. Shots of the replica are contrasted with lively family photographs. The miniatures are constrained to dark grey tones on an insignificant scale. Objects are on the ground, her childhood fish tank is smashed and food is left out on the miniature table. With this film, Nguyen builds a paper collage of archives and reconstructions. She compares the photographs to the paper replica so the viewer can interpret their nostalgic relationship.

The filmmaker confronts the audience with a unique approach to represent her thoughts.  The film’s universe isn’t constrained to fictionalized memories. In a delicate way, the viewer is brought outside the paper house. Nguyen presents her work while embracing the process of making it. The filmmaker shows the hands that place the objects of the paper house, and the studio in which it is lit. The film presents her memories with honesty.

Nguyen’s films depict her internal explorations, and their highly controlled aesthetic gives a sense of restrained emotions. This February, Nguyen will direct her ninth film, the second to be produced within the Mel Hoppenheim film production program.

You can see This Home is Not Empty and How Do You Pronounce Pho? on Nguyen’s Vimeo page.

Feature photo by Charles Duquet.

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