Early reviews have been leaning negative, with more than one describing the depiction of invading North Koreans as xenophobic and ambiguously racist, a perception not helped by the fact that when the movie was shot, the Communist invaders were Chinese and in post-production they were transformed into North Koreans through the magic of special effects (in order to do better box office in China).
Whether or not the new Red Dawn ultimately deserves that critique, we've actually come pretty far on the politics of race -- at least when it comes to hypothetical invasions of the homeland.
Before there was ever a Red Dawn, there was The Red Napoleon, the very first paranoid fictional Communist invasion of the United States, a book stuffed from cover to cover with perfervid nationalism and over-the-top racism beyond the wildest dreams of anyone working in Hollywood today.
The Red Napoleon was written in 1929 by Chicago Tribune war correspondent Floyd Gibbons, whose fictional alter ego is also the book's protagonist. A journalistic pioneer, Gibbons' nonfiction reporting has been the subject of glowing hagiographies, most of which omit mention of the fictional race war he spent 470 pages chronicling.
The Red Napoleon describes the invasion of the United States by Communists in lavish detail. Where both Red Dawn movies open with foreign paratroopers landing on U.S. soil, The Red Napoleon takes its time, spending nearly 200 pages methodically describing the Soviet conquest of the entire world before a shot is fired in North America.
Despite a few clumsy stabs at political relevance, Red Dawn is a melodrama using an invasion as a backdrop. In contrast, The Red Napoleon is a book about an invasion, with a flimsy narrative overlay to keep the geopolitics from becoming too oppressive.
Real-life figures populate the pages, from American icons (and Gibbons contemporaries) Herbert Hoover and Douglas MacArthur, to a host of foreign political luminaries, most of whom meet with bad ends.