By Bilge Ebiri
Mr. Stone, Your Turk Is Ready
My freshman year of college the Yale Political Union, renowned for hosting big-name speakers, invited Oliver Stone to come speak. (This was on the heels of the JFK controversy, and as he was preparing his Vietnam epic Heaven & Earth.) The YPU had a tradition of taking its speakers out to dinner the night of the event. Knowing that I was a big movie nerd and a film major, my roommate — who had some in with the heads of the YPU — wrangled us invited to a small dinner in honor of Stone. It was about seven or eight students, plus Oliver Stone and his lovely assistant, the two of whom proceeded to get soused, partly thanks to the fact that they didn’t touch their food.
Being the shy, hesitant type, I spent the whole dinner on the opposite side of the table from Stone, chatting it up, ironically, with the head of the Party of the Right, with whom I shared a few knowing looks every time Stone said something particularly weird (at one point, the director advocated — and insisted he was completely serious as he did so — bombing the annual conference of the American Society of Magazine Editors).
Still, my roommate could tell that I wished I could say something to Stone as I was a real admirer of his work, especially Salvador and JFK. For a budding leftie teen with filmmaking dreams in the 80s, Oliver Stone was God.
Unfortunately, at the moment, much of the man’s time was being capitalized by a stoner who kept asking him stoner questions like, “Mr. Stone, dude, is it true you dosed your dad when you were in high school?” (It also added to the effect that this stoner guy had a comical, raspy stoner voice.)
Finally, someone mentioned Midnight Express. An opening! “Funny that you mention Midnight Express,” said my roommate, seizing the moment, “because we have a Turk right here.”
The table went silent. The people between Oliver Stone and me leaned away, so we could look in each other’s eyes. Beat. “You’re Turkish?” he asked, hesitantly. I nodded yes.
“What do you think of that movie?”
For a Turk, as I am sure you might imagine, Midnight Express is a touchy topic. For years and years, especially until the tourism boom of the mid-to-late 90s, that film was the extent of contact most people in the West had with Turkey. Whenever I told somebody I was Turkish, the response almost always involved someone asking me what I thought of Midnight Express. This gets old, and annoying. While our mortal enemies the Greeks were being depicted as having sun-dappled beaches and a mighty zest for life, we Turks had to live down our reputation as a bunch of ass-raping psychopaths. To be able to confront that purportedly-fact-based film’s Oscar-winning screenwriter in person was an opportunity many of my fellow countrymen would have paid good money for.
Except I had never seen Midnight Express. I just hemmed and hawed.
“You know, the Turkish government renews its offer of a million dollars to me every year to burn that film,” Stone said, perhaps sensing I had little to offer and graciously helping me out of my corner. That was it. The folks in between leaned forward again, and the conversation returned to JFK, Viet Nam, and how best to torch the magazine editors. The dude from the Party of the Right gave me a sheepish, commiserating look. My roommate nodded.
Stone and I never spoke again.