Hollywood's Changing Takes on Terrorism: Reviewing John Huston's We Were Strangers (1949)

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Scholarship on the cinematic representation of terrorism has grown increasingly sophisticated recently, deepening the debate about the mass media's relationship to political violence. This article contributes to this debate by taking a long view of Hollywood's treatment of terrorism and by examining, in particular, how US filmmakers' definition of terrorism has varied significantly from the early twentieth century through to the present day. The article focuses on a neglected film about Cuban terrorism made during the post-Second World War Red Scare, John Huston's We Were Strangers. Huston's thriller was the first Hollywood production that not only depicted terrorists as heroes but also appeared to justify the killing of innocent civilians for political purposes. By detailing the production of We Were Strangers, the article gives an insight into the obstacles that US filmmakers have typically met when touching on the subject of terrorism – obstacles that, in the case of We Were Strangers, helped hobble the film aesthetically and politically. By analysing the reception of We Were Strangers, the article points to the risks in jumping to conclusions about the impact that screen images of terrorism have had – or might now have – on critical and public opinion.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)399-417
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Contemporary History
Issue number2
Early online date27 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2017


  • Cuba
  • film
  • holywood
  • John Huston
  • REd Scare
  • terrorism


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