Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Reel Bad Arabs (How Hollywood Verlifies a People)

Where are the human images of Arabs and Arab Americans? That’s the topic of a new film called “Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People.” It’s based on a book by the same name by acclaimed media critic Jack Shaheen. Both the book and the film explore the American cinematic landscape to reveal a stark pattern of Arab stereotyping and its disturbing similarity to anti-Semitic and other pernicious caricatures through history.

JACK SHAHEEN: For years, I have looked at how we—particularly, when I say “we,” image makers—have projected Arabs on silver screens. In my latest book, Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People, I looked at more than 1,000 films, films ranging from the earliest, most obscure days of Hollywood to today’s biggest blockbusters. And what I tried to do is to make visible what too many of us seem not to see: a dangerously consistent pattern of hateful Arab stereotypes, stereotypes that rob an entire people of their humanity.

All aspects of our culture project the Arab as villain. That is a given. There is no deviation. We have taken a few structured images and repeated them over and over again. Whether one lives in Paduka, Kentucky or Wood River, Illinois, we know basically the same thing. We know the mythology—the mythology, namely Hollywood’s images of Arabs.

We inherited the Arab image primarily from the British and the French. In the early days, you know, maybe 150 years, 200 years ago, the British and the French who traveled to the Middle East, and those who didn’t travel to the Middle East, conjured up these images of the Arab as the Oriental other. The travel writers, the artists, who fabricated these images and who were very successful, as a matter of fact—and these images were transmitted and inherited by us. We took them, we embellished them, and here they are.

He contends that the movies with the most anti-Arab content are: Rules of Engagement (2000), The Delta Force (1986)Death Before Dishonor (1987) and True Lies(1994).

Included on the "worst list" is:

Inspired by the "worst list", a 9-minute-long trailer called "Planet of the Arabs" was assembled. This short was an Official Selection at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.
The much smaller "Best" list includes Hollywood films that give a balanced heroic portrayal of Arab characters. Included on this list were:

Levesque, John (2002-03-21). "Arabs suffer in the hands of Hollywood".
Shaheen, Jack (2001). Reel Bad Arabs. ISBN1-56656-388-7.

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