Luke Evans in Dracula Untold.
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What the historical inaccuracies in “Dracula Untold” tell us about the rise of Islamophobia

The vilification of Islam has reached such heights that when the Muslim Sultan Mehmet II is cast opposite history’s bloodiest psycho-tyrant, it’s Dracula who emerges as the tragic hero.

This week I saw Dracula Untold in Istanbul, with an Italian Turkologist who shares my enthusiasm for vampire movies. It was past 10pm when the credits rolled, and the audience was disgruntled. Outside, Istiklal Street was still booming. An armored police van drove passed us, weaving through indifferent crowds. “That film was very anti-Muslim,” said my friend. I’m the Muslim one in our relationship, but I was trying to shrug it off, because frankly what else is new?

I do love a good villain, and take some pride in that black-eyed madness the historical Turk is infamous for. So, far from having an objection to my forefathers being cast in a nefarious light, it actually took some effort to reign back the gleeful cackling every time Dominic Cooper’s Mehmet II came on screen. That said, my issue is one of historical accuracy, and contemporary significance.

Admittedly, Hollywood is no genius when it comes to accurate representation. If it’s not a larger-than-life action flick where America is saving the world from aliens, chances are they’ll get it all wrong. But why Turks? And why now, when all eyes are on Turkey, and the country teeters unwillingly on the frontline of impending war? In the current climate of global political tension and escalating Islamaphobia, what political statement does Dracula Untold make in pitting our vampire hero against the armies of Mehmet II?

The film’s generous use of the word “Turk” was interesting. To call an Ottoman a Turk is like calling a Roman an Italian. True, the Ottoman sultans were of Turkic origin. But the empire was much too big, much too ethnically diverse to be called Turkish.

In the Age of Enlightenment, “Turk”, “Moor” and “Mohammedan” were interchangeable terms which basically meant Muslim. When an Englishman adopted the Islamic faith (and records hint that there was an influx of “apostates” during the Jacobean period) he was said to have “turned Turk”. Europe wasn’t merely compromised by the economic and military might of the civilised Muslim world. It was compromised by the reality of Islam as a fast-spreading faith which bore alarming similarities to the Judeo-Christian revelation. It was appealing. Glamorised even, by wealthy, cultivated Muslim travelers hailing from exotic lands. The wide use of “Turk” then, was an attempt to tribalise the Islamic faith and associate it with foreign, potentially threatening powers, which were the common enemy.

I’ll fill you in on some more history. Vlad Dracul II of the house of Draculesti sought support from the Ottoman Sultan in his claim to the Wallachian throne. To put him on it, the Ottomans waged war with Dracul’s enemies. In return, Dracul willingly offered them not one, but two of his sons: Vlad Tepes Dracula and Radu cel Frumos – aka Radu the handsome.

While Vlad Tepes went on to become the progenitor of the vampire myth, his brother would remain loyal to the Sultan, and his childhood friend, Mehmet II. A skilled and celebrated general, Radu proved invaluable in the conquest of Istanbul. And when Vlad Tepes started wreaking carnage across the Balkans, Mehmet II dispatched Radu to quell his brother’s blood-thirst. Vlad’s insurrection was not dissimilar to the terror tactics of the so-called Islamic State. He killed indiscriminately: Men, women and children; Turks and Bulgarians; Muslims and sympathising Christians alike were put to the stake. He boasted of his cruelty to the horror of his foes and allies. And having been raised among Muslims, he had the advantage of disguise. During their guerilla attacks, his men were dressed in Ottoman uniforms. He talked Turkish, walked Turkish and burned villages to the ground.

The brothers battled long, but Radu was victorious. Vlad Tepes fled to Hungary, where he sought sanctuary with the Corvinus clan. But frankly they’d also had enough of his grizzly antics, so they imprisoned him on charges of treason. True story.

Fast forward to the 21st century. In Dracula Untold, Mehmet II seals his demands on Vlad with a bloody thumb-print, and the scene’s final shot is of the Sultan’s thumb on an imperial edict, alongside a stamp bearing the name of God in Arabic script. The Sultan’s cruelty then is the will of the Muslim god, who is out to get your children. Today, vilification of Islam has reached such heights, that even when the Sultan is cast opposite history’s bloodiest-psycho-tyrant, it’s Dracula who emerges as the tragic hero.

BURAK CINGI/REDFERNS
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Only Drake could wow the O2 by pointing out random audience members' clothing

It takes charisma to pull off abandoning hits halfway through.

On the last London night of his Boy Meets World tour (20 March), Drake doesn’t come on stage until 10pm, which is enough to kill off most gigs at the O2 Arena (hello, Bieber), as people are worried about getting the Tube home. The amount of rum and Coke in the room – a steaming, unrecognisable space with a false ceiling of globular lights and a stampeding crowd split in half by a fence – certainly helps keep the buzz. But who’d have thought that a man standing onstage diligently pointing at audience members and saying what they’re wearing (“You in the blue dress shirt with the ­lager!”) would constitute one of the most exciting nights the O2 has seen in a while?

“Tonight is not a show, not a concert, not about me,” says Drake, who runs an annual “Drake Night” in Toronto and once visited Drake University in Iowa.

So far, the world’s favourite rapper – his latest album, More Life, recently got 90 million streams on its first day of release on Apple Music alone – has had a shifting identity. His songs capture a new strain of emotionally literate but solipsistic hip-hop, which can feel intense or whiny depending on how you look at it. His offstage behaviour is Type-A rapper – he has been accused of throwing beer bottles at Chris Brown, he has been punched by Diddy and he has had altercations with Jay Z, Kendrick Lamar, Pusha T and Ludacris.

But Aubrey Drake Graham, the son of a white, Jewish mother and an African-American father who once played drums alongside Jerry Lee Lewis, does skits about his petulance on Saturday Night Live (see “Drake’s Beef”). Emotionally demonstrative, openly dysfunctional, a bit of a bruiser, with an ability to flit between a dozen styles of music while expressing a desire for crowd participation that borders on the needy . . . Could this man be the ­Michael Bublé of hip-hop?

Drake’s sprawling two-hour roadshow is held back from chaos by the force of his physical presence. Blunt-headed with muscular, sloping shoulders and mesmerising, nimble feet, he prowls the edge of the stage. He has had so many hits (and has so many guest stars tonight) that he is not interested in playing them all the way through. Instead, recalling Prince in the same venue ten years ago, the show becomes a series of medleys. With just a drummer and a synth player at the back of the stage, he demonstrates an invisible, physical control over the music, operating it like a string puppet, stopping or starting songs with the drop of a foot or the shrug of a shoulder, so they collapse in the middle and are gone.

It takes charisma to pull off abandoning hits halfway through. Pointing at people in the audience, real or imaginary, is a music hall thing. Bruce Dickinson and Metallica’s James Hetfield do it too. Amid a hokey message to follow your dreams, he recalls his time spent singing for $200 a night as a John Legend tribute act. Cue a perfect demonstration of Legend-style singing – before he suddenly sloughs off “all this bathrobe-and-candle-sexy acoustic Ed Sheeran shit”, while huge columns of flame engulf the stage.

Drake is still at his best with blue, slinky songs of alienation – “9”, “Over”, “Feel No Ways” and “Hotline Bling”, which doubles up as make-out music for the couples in the crowd. One pair of lovers, Drake establishes during one of his crowd surveys, have been together for ten years. “I can’t even make a relationship last ten days,” he laments. In 2012, he told the Guardian, “I’ve had too many girls to ever feel uncomfortable about the man that I am.” An old-school boast from a modern man.

The guest stars serve to highlight Drake’s variety, rather than shine on their own. Their songs, too, are started, suspended, chopped and screwed. Drake is more macho when there’s another guy onstage with him – doing “Successful”, with the literally named Trey Songz, or dueling with thefrenetic Skepta, who sounds so much tougher (maybe because he’s a Londoner). The two whirl around the stage like helicopter seeds.

Nicki Minaj, apparently Drake’s one-time lover, rises fembotishly from a hole in the stage and says in a London accent, “I want some fucking crumpets and tea.”

She adds, of her host, “This nigga single-handedly changed the game.” Minaj sings her song “Moment 4 Life”: “I call the shots, I am the umpire . . .” But she doesn’t really. Even her presence flares up quickly and is gone.

Kate Mossman is the New Statesman's arts editor and pop critic.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution