TCA ISSUE PAPERS-13
July 2, 2007
William “Billy” Hayes, the “hero” of the movie Midnight Express, visited Turkey last week and in a widely publicized press conference stated that the movie was a gross exaggeration and one-sided misrepresentation of his experience in Turkey. He expressed his regret and accepted responsibility for the damage the film inflicted on Turkey’s image worldwide for decades.
Hayes was arrested and jailed for trying to smuggle 4 ½ pounds of hashish out of Turkey in 1970. Caught at the airport as he was about to board his US bound plane, Hayes subsequently spent five years in jail in Turkey. He escaped from prison and upon his return to the US wrote a novel titled Midnight Express. The book was turned into a movie by the same name by Oliver Stone, who wrote the script, and was directed by Alan Parker. Turning into a cult movie over the years, the film had a lasting negative impact on perceptions toward Turkey. Reportedly, even today, a quarter century after its release, people cite the film as a reason not to visit Turkey. It has been loathed by Turks as a racist misrepresentation of Turkey since its first screening in 1978.
According to Hayes, both Stone and Parker misrepresented his experiences during his incarceration and included gross exaggerations of his treatment in jail and of his encounters with Turks during that time. Hayes told reporters in Istanbul that he has been trying for years to correct these misperceptions in the media, but that his voice was drowned by the powerful images created by the film and its makers. Underlining that he had made friendships with many Turks, before and after he was incarcerated, he noted that the movie’s storyline did not depict even one such “good Turk.”
During his visit to Istanbul, Hayes also gave an interview to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, where he issued apologies to Turks for all the problems the film created and reiterated that many brutal scenes of mistreatment depicted in the movie did in fact not happen. His remarks last week in Istanbul are not the first time that Hayes publicly regretted Midnight Express. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, published on January 10, 2004, Hayes stated that “he feels awful that the film gave a brutal reputation to the entire nation of Turkey,” and that it also bothers him that it depicts all Turks as monsters. In Hayes’ words: "The message of 'Midnight Express' isn't 'Don't go to Turkey. It's 'Don't be an idiot like I was, and try to smuggle drugs.'"