The Mandarin, as portrayed by Ben Kingsley in 'Iron Man 3'

The Mandarin, as portrayed by Ben Kingsley in 'Iron Man 3'

‘Iron Man 3’ Villain Invokes Sand Creek Massacre

The villain in the blockbuster action flick Iron Man 3 has a list of grudges against the United States — and one is a historical event that only periodically gets attention outside of Indian country.

The Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley, is a terrorist mastermind who interrupts TV programming to rail against injustices and broadcast acts of violence — a Denver Post reviewer says that the character "definitely conjures the ghost of Osama bin Laden" and "swings his ideological ax wildly."

One of the crimes The Mandarin uses as justification for his own mayhem is the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre, in which some 700 Colorado Territory militia led by Col. John Chivington killed over 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho people, most of them women, children and elderly.

The reference has been noted by many viewers, perhaps none more prominent than University of California-Davis professor Ari Kelman, author of A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek.

"For almost a century and a half, different groups of people have used memories of Sand Creek to advance their political agendas," Kelman said, according to Denver Westword. "The makers of Iron Man 3 tapped into this rich historical vein, repurposing the massacre yet again, this time as an emblem of the hazards of American imperialism. A terrorist in the film seizes on the slaughter at Sand Creek as justification for his crimes … It's a chilling scene and a grim reminder that the struggle over the meaning of the Sand Creek Massacre still haunts this nation."

Look for the interest in Sand Creek to keep picking up, particularly in light of the closure of the Sand Creek Massacre exhibit at History Colorado last month. The grim event will mark its 150th anniversary in 2014. 

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