6 American Characters in Foreign Films (Tested for Accuracy)

America cinema gets a lot of flak for how it portrays foreigners. The bad guys are always strangely British, Hollywood can't get foreign languages right, and plots are always arranged so that oppressed groups can only stop being oppressed if they have an American leading them. But how do our international brethren portray Americans in their movies? It can be hard to tell, because while the fruits of Hollywood are exported all over the world, foreign movies aren't exactly fighting their way onto our screens. But don't worry: I've collected a bunch of international films that feature at least one American character, and made notes on how accurate they are. Next time you're traveling overseas, you might be compared to the people in ...

#6. Love Actually (England, 2003)

Out of all the movies on this list, this British romantic comedy was the most popular in America. But in case you missed it, here's the most important America-related plotline: an English guy named Colin spends the first half of the movie dreaming about going to the USA so he can pick up women using his charming British accent. His friend mocks him, claiming that no amount of exotic voice-words will make up for his unremarkable looks and personality. Colin finally makes it to the U.S., and the twist is that there is no twist: the American women he meets adore his accent and all want to sleep with him.

There's also a plot about a lecherous American president played by Billy Bob Thornton, but let's pretend that never happened.

But Is It Accurate?

To figure this one out I went right to the source, and interviewed an Englishman who's lived in America for several years. Over a nostalgic lunch of teeth-and-kidney sausages and sheep's-foot stew, I asked him about the accuracy of the Love Actually scene. I was immediately assured that it was 100 percent true. According to Mr. British, the simple act of ordering food or buying groceries in America has gotten him looked at by surrounding women "in a way that made me bitterly resent not moving to America when I was 16." I couldn't get any further details because he was then dragged away by a group of adoring Americans and warm beer spilled everywhere, but it was all I needed to know.

Accuracy Rating: 9/10

#5. The Night Baghdad Fell (Egypt, 2005)

This comedy chronicles the reactions of normal Egyptians to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Everyone in the movie is afraid that Egypt will be next on the invasion list, and the protagonist, a school headmaster, starts having repeated nightmares about American soldiers storming his home. In a sequence of events that I'm sure makes sense if you're familiar with Egyptian comedy, all the male characters react to this invasion fear by becoming impotent. Eventually, one newlywed wife has an idea: the next time she and her husband go to bed together, she dresses up as an American soldier and calls herself "Jack." Once again, I'm sure it makes sense if you're really into the Egyptian cinematic comedy scene of the early 2000s.


"Let's play 'invade the' -- no, too easy. Let's play 'aim your rifle at the' -- nope. Look, let's just have sex."

Anyway, it works: the husband's penis comes to life like a flower after a spring rain, and suddenly the movie is showing us a montage of a half-dozen Egyptian wives all pretending to be male soldiers in bed (it's at the 70-minute mark):

But Is It Accurate?

OK, I'm guessing that the film is making some sort of commentary on the fragile state of masculinity created by Egypt's traditional hyper-patriarchal society, in which male self-worth becomes so dependent on a rigid idea of sexual dominance that a political event in another country is enough to render men ready to star in a Cialis commercial. But I'm pretty sure that for most women, a guy asking her to put on a military uniform and call herself "Jack" would raise a bunch of red flags completely unrelated to "our nation's sociosexual politics."

IuriiSokolov/iStock/Getty Images
"Babe, I just want to fantasize about marrying you and getting reliable military health insurance."

As for the accuracy of the American characters being portrayed by the cross-dressing wives, I'd have to give this part a low rating. Those boots are absurd, the flags are wrong, and everyone has duct tape wrapped around their helmets for some reason. Ridiculous. The husbands should not have stood for it. Hehehe, "stood."

Accuracy Rating: 4/10

#4. My Name Is Khan (India, 2010)

It's another War-on-Terror-themed movie, this time about Rizwan Khan, an Indian Muslim with Asperger's syndrome who emigrates to the United States in the 1990s. He soon marries and settles down, but after 9/11, his ethnic background and personality quirks (he is incapable of lying; he's afraid of the color yellow) cause suspicion among his American neighbors that he might be up to something shady and terrorist-y. Khan embarks on a quest to meet President Bush and assure him that he's never personally done any terrorism. Not a single terrorism.


"Also, we're in a Bollywood movie, so you might want to prepare yourself for my 10-minute, 'not-a-terrorist' dance sequence."

But Is It Accurate?

This movie gets many things right. For example, Khan is constantly getting scared by the color yellow, and I can confirm that there is a lot of yellow in America. The movie's opening scenes, in which Khan is manhandled and interrogated by TSA agents until he misses his flight, is depressingly accurate. But other bits don't really live up to that promise: at one point, Khan tries to attend a dinner to meet President Bush, only to be rejected when an attendant informs him it's a "Christians-only event." In real life, as soon as she said those words the ACLU would have swept in and shot up the place with bullets made of ground-up nativity scenes.

Another issue is the guy's name. It's a big deal in the movie that Americans reflexively associate the surname "Khan" with Islam. At one point, Khan's wife, a Hindu, exclaims that if she hadn't married him and her name had remained a Hindu one, they wouldn't have faced such awful discrimination. It's a touchingly rosy view of bigotry, assuming that anti-Muslims sit down with an onomastics book every Wednesday night and research ethnic surnames, just so they don't accidentally yell "towelhead" at the wrong person and commit an awful faux pas. In reality, I imagine that in most of America, the only added disadvantage of having the "Khan" surname rather than a Hindu one would be all the people yelling Star Trek jokes at you.

Zurijeta/iStock/Getty Images
"Yes, it just gets more hilarious every single time you scream my name like that. Can we go back to abusing me about 9/11 now?"

Accuracy Rating: 6/10

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C. Coville

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