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  Billy Hayes Regrets Midnight Express' Slander of Turks  
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 I remember seeing Billy Hayes on television after his "escape," and he made a remark to the tune of "I like Turks -- it's their prisons I can't stand." Oliver Stone's Academy Award-winning screenplay certainly deviated from Hayes' book, making the Turks and their culture appear sub-human at every turn.

I would have imagined Billy Hayes, owing to that remark of his that I remember probably back 1975, felt pretty lousy that his story was turned into such a hatchet job. John Flinn of The San Francisco Chronicle was behind a January 10, 2004 article that cast light on Hayes' feelings. This article (here's the original source) has been excerpted below, and does not run verbatim.

The real Billy Hayes regrets 'Midnight Express' cast all Turks in a bad light


"In the history of cinema, has any film done more to blacken a nation's reputation among travelers than 'Midnight Express'? A quarter of a century after its release, people still cite it as a reason for steering clear of Turkey."

The article began as such, later reminding us the film was based on young American  Billy Hayes' account of prison life after trying to smuggle 4 1/2 pounds of hashish out of Turkey in 1970, when he was 22.

While the movie was masterfully done, Hayes' opinion is that most viewers come away with the wrong message. " 'The message of "Midnight Express" isn't "Don't go to Turkey," ' he said recently. 'It's "Don't be an idiot like I was, and try to smuggle drugs." "

The now 56-year-old lives in L.A., recently debuting as a film director himself.

"He said he feels awful that the film gave a brutal reputation to the entire nation of Turkey. The cruel and barbaric prison conditions depicted in the movie were accurate, he said, but they were hardly unique to that country. Malaysia, Thailand and any number of other places were -- and are -- just as bad." Hayes continues by stating the story "could have happened in a variety of countries."

He also is reported as saying that he's bothered by the fact that  " 'Midnight Express' depicts all Turks as monsters."

"I loved the movie, but I wish they'd shown some good Turks. You don't see a single one in the movie, and there were a lot of them, even in the prison. It created this impression that all Turks are like the people in 'Midnight Express.' ... I wish they'd shown some of the milk of human kindness I (also) witnessed."



Billy Hayes

William Hayes at 56

While he was forced to stay away for years, thanks to an outstanding warrant for his arrest by Interpol, Hayes is reported as saying that "he wouldn't hesitate to return to Turkey -- if he could. 'I'd love to go back. I really loved that country -- except for the five years I spent in prison. I loved the Turkish people.' "

And here's an interesting fact the article reports... the Turks were cool enough not to report the case to Interpol after he had escaped, nor even after he had written his book. It was only after the film was released, and probably after the repercussions that were felt, that the Turks decided to do something. (Just like in cases with other "Turk haters." For example, the Armenians act, and the Turks react.)

The article tells us that "the warrant expired five years ago, but Hayes has another reason for avoiding Turkey: He fears he'd be held responsible for all the trouble 'Midnight Express' has caused its tourism industry.

'There's no doubt it changed the whole face of Turkish tourism,' he said. 'I'd really like to go back, but I'm afraid about the fallout from people who lost business. It's not fair. The burden fell on people who weren't to blame.' "

The article concludes with the irony that despite the "other" message of the movie (that is, besides the main one of all Turks being bad), some 1,000 Americans are arrested  annually in foreign countries on drug charges. "While many are quickly released, roughly 1,600 are currently held in foreign prisons, often in conditions similar to those endured by Hayes."


Holdwater: I'm sure prison conditions were pretty insufferable, but I wondered about Hayes' statement, "The cruel and barbaric prison conditions depicted in the movie were accurate." The film went out of its way to depict a nightmarish and dark "Devil's Island" world, shot in some old barracks in Malta... whereas the prison Hayes stayed in, if what I heard from a radio guest is accurate, was constructed in the 1960s. Probably prison conditions were more like in the hardly pro-Turkish movie "Yol," which -- while no picnic -- depicted a saner world from Midnight Express' hellhole.




In another article, Hayes was asked whether he would like to remake "Midnight Express," and replied that he would decline, since it already has been done. Asked to define wisdom, part of his answer was "Seeing things from many perspectives."

Well, that certainly tells us if there's anything that "Midnight Express" was, it wasn't wise.


A Turkish Article

 In a Turkish article written by Yeni Safak writer Ali Murat Güven, entitled "Midnight Express was Unfair to Turks," Hayes reported that he visited the Turkish consulate in Los Angeles, regarding plans to revisit Turkey... after a 35 year absence. It appears he is thinking (now that he is a film director) of producing a show for television that will accentuate the positive, balancing in some manner the damage caused by the movie version of his book.

He further details the regret over the dehumanization of Turks that Director Alan Parker showcased in his 1978 film. Hayes would have preferred examples of the many good-hearted Turks he knew could have been among the heroes of this film. Forget about the "outside," he is quoted as saying, even in prison he got to be friends with many wonderful Turkish people.

Billy Hayes informs us he still speaks Turkish quite well.

He lived a life of mild dread while the Interpol warrant was active, and only began to freely live after the Turkish government became amnesty-minded and dropped the charges in the early 1990s. His wife and mother became very happy with the news.

Hayes tells us the film's presentation was beyond his control and he fears that the Turks would still pin the blame on him, which could derail his hopes of returning, and the good intentions he bears. He reminds us that he really liked the Turks, and he harbors (wonderful memories?); he believes he speaks the language better than most foreigners who live in Turkey, which was at least one good outcome of his five year stint in the joint.

The article reports the Greek and Armenian lobbies had a hand in helping with the film's four million dollar budget, and the Turkish spoken in the film either has an Armenian accent (from the Armenian actors), or is indecipherable. Since its release, the film has been seen in every corner of the world... continuing to work its black magic, regarding the tarnished image of the Turks.





Thanks to Ali Murat Güven, for bringing these articles to light.


A Video Interview with Billy Hayes Featured on YouTube





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