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Film Review Reel Bad Arabs Media Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 2260 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In his documentary, Shaheen represents the foreign stigma of Arabs as being either harems whose sole purpose in life is pleasing men, as being nomads, or as desert dwellers full of violence. This stigma goes as far as projecting the “Arab land” as having magical carpets and Genies in bottles. One famous movie that portrays this Stigma is the Disney Animation, “Aladdin”. Through Dr. Shaheen’s eyes, “Aladdin is a film that recycled every old degrading stereotype from Hollywood’s silent black-and-white past.” I agree with Dr. Shaheen on this specific point because even the opening song of the movie goes, “Oh, I come from a land, from a faraway place, where the caravan camels grow, where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face. It’s barbaric, but, hey, it’s home.”  Moreover, there is another scene in the movie where a woman in the grocery market is threatened by a salesman to cut of her hands if she doesn’t pay for the items she took off of the counter. In my opinion, this scene shows a very extreme view of Arab traditions, and, seeing as not all Arab countries apply to such harsh penalties for stealing; it is an unfair portrayal of the Arab society.

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Another critical point that Shaheen reveals is how Hollywood portrays Arab men, especially Sheikhs as erotic men who are obsessed with American women. A scene that elaborates on this idea is from the movie “Cannonball Run 2”, where an Arab tells a couple of American women, “I have a weakness for blondes.” He takes those women to a hotel and orders his butler to book twelve suits which emphasizes that Arabs “are too rich and stupid to know the value of money” according to Dr. Shaheen. While most movies project Arab men as oversexed, they always portray American women as victims that try to defend themselves from those “erotic” Arab men. An example of such a stereotype is seen in the movie “Taken” in which Liam Neeson is a retired CIA agent who, throughout the whole movie, tries to track his daughter, Kim, who was kidnapped by slave traders while she was travelling in France. At the end of the movie he goes to a place where he finds his daughter being sold in a sex slave auction to a young man who has offered the highest price. This man takes Kim to a fancy boat surrounded by guards, and goes in to a huge room and tells his master, who is an Arab, that he got himself the girl he wanted.  Moreover, Hollywood also reveals Arab men with the same external image of wearing a long dress or “galabeya”, a beard, dark sunglasses, and limousine in the background. Again, Hollywood has taken an over dramatized notion of Arabs and generalized it in to a widely conceived idea of the Arab culture and history.

Dr. Jack Shaheen believes that Hollywood always portrays Arabs as “brutal, heartless, uncivilized religious fanatics and money -mad people who are bent on terrorizing civilized westerners, especially Christians and Jews.” I agree with Dr. Shaheen’s view because Hollywood movies always project Arabs as villains with guns and knives who view violence as a normal act. I also noticed while watching the short clips from different movies that they mainly focus on the facial expressions of the Arabs and trying to reveal them as angry, vicious people full of hatred. I believe that such techniques are especially designed to psychologically brainwash the audience into believing the fake portrayal that Hollywood has made of the Arabs. Such techniques have also had an impact on other forms of media, such as music. Many pop Artists and Rappers have criticized Arabs in their songs. In Busta Rhymes’ song “Arab Money”, he uses lines from the Quran and mocks the Middle Eastern culture for its wealth by including lines such as ” Screw the recession, I’m still investing , about to buy Dubai and swim the shark section.”

            For a long time, Hollywood has mainly focused on stigmatizing the image of Arabs and it has never revealed the accomplishments they have made throughout history. In addition, they never mentioned that Arabs have inspired Europeans with their skills and techniques throughout history. Arabs have introduced agriculture concepts such as oranges, cotton, and dates to Europeans. They have also made great advances in technology such as in the “water clock”. Also, Al Khwarizmi, the founder of Algebra, has made a great contribution to mathematics that is used worldwide today.  All of these examples are positive aspects of Arabs that could be portrayed in American movies; however, Hollywood chooses to present Arabs in the fake negative portrayal that it has created of them.

            Later on in the Documentary, Dr. Shaheen states that the image of Arabs began to change after World War II. Hollywood focused more on Palestinians due to the conflict between Israel and Palestine, in which the United States supported Israel. Palestinians are projected as evil civilians who are always harming Jews and Israelis in general. They are also shown as violent in nature and suicide bombers who cause the deaths of innocent people. One movie that elaborates on this theory is “Delta force”. In this film, a group of Palestinians terrorize people on the plane and one Palestinian tells another to “pick out the passengers with Jewish names” so they can kill them.  In addition, many Arab women are projected as villains such as in the movie “Black Sunday” where the character is a cold blooded woman who tried to kill 80,000 innocent Americans at a super bowl. Dr. Shaheen believes that two Israeli producers emphasized these stereotypes in Hollywood movies for a twenty-year period. He also states that there are some movies that are particularly shown on television at least once a week. In my opinion, this is a form of propaganda to make the audience hate Arabs, and especially Palestinians. Hollywood and American television has never sympathized with Palestinians by showing them as innocent people living in refugee camps or who are brutally shot by Israeli soldiers in their homeland.

            Hollywood has shown in recent movies how easy it is for Americans kill Arabs in brutal ways trying to emphasizing that Arabs deserve to die.  The movie “Rules of Engagement”, starring Samuel L. Jackson, is an example that stresses this idea. A specific scene that reveals this idea is a scene where Arab men, women, and even small children are all holding guns and trying to kill the American soldiers. This scene underlines the fact that Arabs are never innocent and violent in nature, even young children.

            For over a century words like “Muslims” and “Arabs” are threatening in the west. In addition, the situation grew worse since the September 11th attack where 19 Arab Muslims were responsible for the deaths of 3000 people. Jack Shaheen explains that the actions of a small group of people should not be reflected upon 1.9 million people. I agree with Shaheen’s point of view; as an Arab, I was one of the many Muslims who were against the 9/11 attacks as it is excruciating and inexcusable to kill innocent people for any reason. Also, the Quran forbids the killing of innocent people and the terrorists responsible for this attack, who call themselves Muslims, have disrespected their religion on so many levels. On the other hand, I can understand why in the United States, the actions of one Arab reflect on the rest. Therefore, documentaries aired on television Brainwash people by using Bold and Capital letters to emphasize things like “Islam, a religion of 2 billion members growing by 50 million people annually. Nearly every terrorist network is led by an Islamic fundamentalist.” Dr. Shaheen also states that since 9/11 attack, passengers with Muslim names are immediately suspects in US airports; even the ones who hold American passports.

            Shaheen points out that Hollywood has been portraying Arabs as “terrorists” and “villains” for a very long time that it’s ok to include them in movies that have nothing to with them such as “Back to the Future” and “Gladiator”. Moreover, when Arabs are not terrorizing Americans or harassing their women, they are buying up their country and being the source of their economic troubles as seen in the movie “Father of the Bride.” Also, a scene from a movie included in the documentary shows a man in a talk show urging the need for American citizens to let their president know that they do not like the fact that the “Arabs are buying them.”

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            A different important point that Dr. Shaheen makes in his documentary is that Arab women are always victimized in Hollywood movies as poor and weak. They are always seen in the shadows or in the background and do not have a purpose. Arab women are never portrayed as doctors, engineers, or even successful leaders. Women such as “El Sheikha Mozah” who have made great difference in shaping Qatar’s economic statues have never been mentioned in American Movies. Another example is “Queen Rania of Jordan” who has greatly improved educational systems throughout all Arab countries. In the movie “Cleopatra”, starring Elizabeth Taylor, the great Egyptian leader was only portrayed as a beautiful woman who fell in love with Mark Anthony, but not as a strong, wise leader who ruled Egypt.

            Another Arab culture that has been stigmatized by Hollywood is the Egyptian culture. Most movies about Egyptian culture are based on pharaohs, mummies, pyramids, and desert Bedouins. American movies never portray the modern Egyptian culture, which results in a large portion of Americans believing that Egyptians ride camels instead of cars and live in tents and pyramids instead of “normal” houses.

            Throughout the whole documentary, my favorite part was where Dr. Jack Shaheen presents the “Real” Arabs and what they are really like. He stated the fact that not all Arabs are Muslims and many of them are Christians. Moreover, not all Arab women are veiled; instead, many of them are extremely modern and up to date with clothes. In fact, there are many great Arab fashion designers such as “Zuhair Murad” and “Eli Saab” who have inspired different styles of clothes worldwide. In addition, teenagers and children in Arab regions engage in sports and activities just like normal children who do the same things in any other part of the world. Even if Arabs wish to abide by their culture and traditional appearance it doesn’t mean that the “other” or the “different” is labeled under the name of the enemy.

            Dr. Shaheen states that even though Arabs have been stereotyped for a long time in Hollywood, there are some filmmakers who have portrayed Arabs in a positive way. One movie that humanizes Arabs and projects them with respect in Dr. Shaheen’s opinion is “Three Kings.” Another movie that is a good example is “Kingdom of Heaven” where it reveals that even though “Saladin” conquered Jerusalem, there was peace and respect between Christians and Muslims. Although Dr. Shaheen has shown a couple of films that project Arabs in a positive way, I think he left out a couple of important films that are good examples such as “Lawrence of Arabia” starring Omar El Sherif and the movie “Babel” starring Brad Pitt. In my opinion, “Babel” is a very important movie that represents the Arabs in a respectful, mannerly way. While Brad Pitt and his wife were on vacation in Morocco, his wife gets shot while they were in the Bus. As they couldn’t contact the Embassy at that time, a Moroccan tour guide, Anwar, offers his help to Brad Pitt and takes them to his house and takes care of them for several days. When he finally contacted the Embassy, before he leaves, he offers Anwar all the money he has as a way of thanking him but Anwar absolutely refuses to take any of it.

            In my opinion, I think Dr. Jack Shaheen’s point of view of how Arabs have been stereotyped in Hollywood movies is very convincing. I like the fact that he states his opinion and emphasizes it with different shots from different movies throughout the documentary. Also, not only does he reveal how Hollywood stereotypes Arabs, but also shows that in some movies they are portrayed in a positive way which proves that he is not biased. I agree with the Dr. Shaheen when he says, “I am an optimist and I believe particularly in young film makers. The stereotype will change because many young men and women who are entering this profession will see that there is an engrave injustice committed and they will make attempts to correct it. It’s only a matter of time to when this will happen.” I also agree with the fact that the stereotypes against Arabs will change just like it did with Black African Americans by time. Stereotypes may not be eternal and perhaps the time will come where ignorance will fade away from minds and tolerance of different beliefs and cultures will proceed.


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