Three major history films were produced in Mongolia and Tibet in the socialist era that dealt with the role of earlier Chinese dynasties in those areas. Two of the films – Tsogt Taij (1945) and Budala gong mishi (1989) – portray events in Tibet in the seventeenth century and include portrayals of the Fifth Dalai Lama and the Mongolian leader, Gushri Khan. The third film, Mandukhai setsen khatun (1989), deals with fifteenth century history in Mongolia and the effort to maintain national unity. The three films were produced during brief periods of relative relaxation in socialist ideology, and each reflected the considerable influence of local historians and intellectuals in the views they presented of local history, producing epic accounts of nationalist heroes or heroines and of their efforts to defend or build up the nation or nationality against powerful foreign enemies. The films seem to have been understood locally at the time or later as criticising a colonising power or occupier, but in fact the stories of each film focus on internal or neighbouring enemies who from an outside perspective appear less significant. The paper discusses the relative absence of the external enemy from these films and analyses the forms of emotional characterisation used to mark the different ethnic and political groups portrayed in the films. This analysis suggests that views held by subaltern communities towards other dominated groups or minorities, often dismissed as forms of erroneous displacement, deserve serious consideration as reflections of complex, emic understandings of political relations and priorities in colonial- type conditions.