So, you want to tell a story about a real-life event in a remote, exotic location. Say, a revolution in Indonesia, a genocide in Cambodia, or the partition of the Asian subcontinent. Still, you can't make it too
exotic, or you will lose your audience. So you give them a protagonist they can relate to, usually a reporter, doctor, tourist, or other plausible visitor from a rich western country. This character is given a story arc of his own that plays out against the backdrop of major world events. He may be taking an active interest in these events, or he may just be trying to live his life without getting involved. Chances are that at some point he will have to make a change, though. He will be made aware of how bad the situation really is, become disillusioned, and/or realise the country is no longer safe for him. This usually precipitates a sequence in the last third of the movie in which the protagonist must escape from Deepest Darkest Africa
(or Deepest Darkest Java, Deepest Darkest Indochina, etc.). Alternatively, he may end up Going Native
The "Foreign Correspondent" acts as a lens
through which the audience views the country he is visiting. Done well, this can produce a movie that is both moving and
historically informative. Done too much, however, and it creates the impression that stories about foreign countries can only
be told when they are seen through the eyes of a foreigner, as though the natives were incapable of telling their own stories.
For a work of fiction to fit this trope, it has to involve a person from one part of the world who is visiting another part of the world. Although such stories usually involve Britons or Americans visiting Africa, Asia, or Latin America, they could theoretically involve any
two parts of the world. The important point is that the story is told through the eyes of the foreigner rather than a local person.
Not to be confused with the Alfred Hitchcock
film of the same name
Subtrope of Lead You Can Relate To
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Anime & Manga
- Deployed in Monster in an interesting way: Tenma, the Japanese protagonist, is the audience's tie to the foreign backdrop of Germany and Czechoslovakia. Additionally, Tenma himself uses this trope as a cover for his research, claiming that his interests in Cold War secret police operations and organizations stem from a new Japanese fad.
Films — Live-Action
- Contrary to what its title and marketing suggest, The Last King of Scotland is not so much about Idi Amin as about the fictional doctor Nicholas Garrigan who befriends him and gradually becomes disillusioned with his regime. Forrest Whitaker's Amin still steals the show, though.
- In The Year Of Living Dangerously, the period leading up to Indonesia's 1966 coup d'état is presented through the eyes of two Australian journalists and a British civil servant.
- Played straight and then averted in The Killing Fields. The first half of the movie shows the American reporter Sydney Schanberg trying to escape from Cambodia in 1973. In the second part, Dith Pran - Sydney's Cambodian interpreter - finds himself stranded in Cambodia and caught up in the genocide. This is notably one of the few films in which a native of the country in question is allowed to become the film's protagonist.
- Blood Diamond partially subverts this by having an African among its main characters, but most of the perspective is provided by a Western journalist.
- Reds. The Russian Revolution as experienced by journalist John Reed (based on his novel 10 Days That Shook The World).
- Averted, strangely enough in the Alfred Hitchcock film Foreign Correspondent, where the editor states from the off-set that he does not want another foreign correspondent in Europe. He sends a crime reporter instead, who still gets embroiled in the start-up to World War II.
- Raymond Burr as reporter Steve Martin in the US cuts of the original Godzilla and Godzilla 1985.
- The movie Flowers Of War is about the Rape of Nanjing and focuses on a group of Chinese women struggling to stay safe - yet for some reason the story takes the viewpoint of an alcoholic white American man who just happened to be there.
- Although Gandhi is primarily told through the eyes of its title character, chunks of it are also shown via various white foreigners, despite the fact that there are numerous Indian characters of much more historical significance on hand.
- Ernest Callenbach's Ecotopia. American newspaper reporter William Weston visits the title country, which was formerly part of the U.S.
- Not quite every one of their novels is like this, but a large percentage of Eric Ambler and Graham Greene's novels are. For example The Quiet American, described below, as well as Our Man in Havana, in which the foreign correspondent is a vacuum cleaner salesman in pre-Castro Cuba.
- Evelyn Waugh's novel Scoop is a comic novel version of this — the protagonist and many supporting characters are all journalists covering an Eastern African country likely based on Ethiopia.
- Some novels of the French author Jules Verne have Frenchmen in relatively passive "observer roles" among an otherwise non-French cast. Examples are Passepartout in Around the World in 80 Days or Professor Aronnax in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (although the educational element in aforementioned novels is less about politics, and more about science and geography).
- Many of the books of Paul Theroux and Bill Bryson. The latter even manages to do it while travelling in a country he lives in, or where he spend his early years.
- The Quiet American is largely about the rivalry between a young American man and an older British man for the affection of a Vietnamese girl. This soap-opera takes place against the backdrop of civil conflict in 1950s Vietnam. It's also symbolic of the conflict—the aging European powers losing their grip on the world, the idealistic Americans trying to make a difference and not entirely understanding what they're getting into, and the Third World, caught between them.
- Newspaper editor William de Worde's cameo appearance in Monstrous Regiment offers an outsider's perspective into the crazy closed country of Borogravia. His insights even offer native characters a chance to see their country as it is viewed from the outside.
- A couple in World War Z. One is a Canadian Spec Op to show the start of the plague in Afganistan. Another is the Englishman who explains about castles in the war. Notably, most Americans avert this trope and fight on America's soil, therefore averting America Saves the Day, which usually plague the genre.