Reel Bad Arabs  

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"Washington and Hollywood spring from the same DNA." -- Jack Valenti

"Arabs are the most maligned group in the history of Hollywood. They’re portrayed basically as sub-humans – ‘Untermenschen’, a term used by Nazis to vilify gypsies and Jews. [...] 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."[1] --Reel Bad Arabs, 2001

"One reason we have not been allowed to empathize with any Palestinian on the silver screen is due to two Israeli producers, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. These two filmmakers created an American company called Cannon. And they released in a period of 20 years at least 30 films, which vilify all things Arab, particularly Palestinians. They even came out with a film called “Hell Squad” showing Vegas show girls trouncing Arabs in the middle of the desert. I think the most affective film they have ever done, one of the most popular, and more racist is “The Delta Force.” Here Palestinians hijack a plane and terrorize the passengers, especially the Jewish ones."[2] --Reel Bad Arabs

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People is a documentary film directed by Sut Jhally in 2006. This film is an extension of the book of that name by Jack Shaheen which also analyzes how Hollywood corrupts or manipulates the image of Arabs. This documentary argues that the slander of Arabs in American filmmaking has existed since the early days of the silent cinema and is present in the biggest Hollywood blockbusters today. Jack Shaheen analyzes a long series of "demeaning" images of Arabs through his presentation of various scenes from different American movies which he has studied. He argues that this image is characterized by showing Arabs either as bandits or as a savage, nomadic race, or shows Arab women as shallow belly dancers serving evil, naïve, and greedy Arab sheiks. Most important is the image of the rifle in the hands of Arab "terrorists". The film then attempts to explain the motivations behind these stereotypes about Arabs, and their development at key points in American history, as well as why it is so important today.

The film showed for the first time in Washington on 8 June 2007 and then in Los Angeles in the 20 June 2007. The run time of the film is 50 minutes, with Arabic and English subtitles. Soon afterward, the film was shown successively in more than a dozen of international film festivals between 2006 and 2009 The film's estimated budget is $100,000.



Shaheen speaks at the beginning of the documentary about the extent to which Arabs face slander and manipulation in Hollywood, commenting that he has formulated that view of his after having seen over a thousand films produced, in the past and in the present. He also talks about how bleak the views are, those of which are borne by the Western civilization (and he refers to it as our civilization), admittedly confessing how the views directly attack the Arabs' humanity. Furthermore, he mentions how the same image took shape in several patterns to feed the same substance that is continuously demonizing the Arabs, thus. The image had to repeat over and over and was depicted in scenes in several films that heavily abuse the Arabs' behaviors and morals.

All through the documentary Shaheen's statements are illustrated by clips from the films he describes.

Shaheen reviews some of the images about Arabs he perceives as distorted, and argues this causes a process of feeding/poisoning the minds of the younger generations with these infected ideas about Arabs that characterizes them with such heinous and harmful descriptions as in the Disney motion picture, Aladdin. Shaheen also turns it around: what must viewers from the Arab world think of America and Americans when they keep seeing these images in American films?

Shaheen also argues that the image of the Arab woman is distorted and does not represent her. Arab women in films are either bellydancers of faceless, anonymous shapes in black robes. More recently Arab women are also portrayed as terrorists. The truth is, they are just like all other women in the world: talented, intelligent, and equal in all areas and fields.

Shaheen then argues that politics have a big role in affecting Hollywood's image about Arabs, and moreover, both Hollywood and politics feed and empower the other. He stresses that filmmakers openly acknowledge this interaction between Hollywood and American politics by citing Jack Valenti, longtime president of the Motion Picture Association of America: "Washington and Hollywood spring from the same DNA". Political and economic events like the crisis of high oil prices in the United States as a result of the Arabs refusal of exporting it to The States, the revolution in Iran (a non-Arab country) as well as Al-Qaeda activities, the events of 11 September and others, all exported a bad, faded image about Arabs to every American home... It is a truly a very distorted picture. Both the book and the film do reveal the American film scene history, where they exposed a blatant pattern of profiling to stereotype the Arabs and they also showed the similarity of this stereotype with the racist, anti-Semitic caricature and cartoon art throughout history.

Alleging a political agenda, he says out of 1000 films that have Arab and Muslim characters (from the year 1896 to 2000), 12 were positive depictions, 52 were neutral portrayals of Arabs, and 936 were negative.

Although the negative imagery of Arabs and the Arab world in film is a hundred years old, Shaheen also voices optimism about the future. Showing some examples of films that portray Arabs als ordinary people, he expects the negative images to change, due to the works of a new generation of filmmakers, who see things differently.

Arabs stereotypes reportedly found in movies

  1. The bad Arab character that is always evil and portrayed as a "terrorist" causing explosions, shootings, stabbings, offenses and attacks.
  2. The shallow or silly Arab character that is always naive, pursuing only fun, lust and extravagance.
  3. The Bedouin Arab character, that is remotely far from civilization and science, and is often accompanied by "tent" and "camel" images.
  4. The arrogant Arab character that is very nervous, repressive of women, and the farthest possible from emotions or romance.

Films which reportedly depict these stereotypes include

Films which reportedly depict a positive image include

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Reel Bad Arabs" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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