Posted: March 23rd, 2023
Former Chairman of the Motion Pictures Association, Jack Valenti, once uttered the statement that revealed how the U.S. policy influences the filmmaking world in the United States. The country’s politics and policy influence major topics, which are evident in the American films. Jack G. Shaheen, in his book, which was also produced in a documentary, Reel Bad Arabs –How Hollywood Vilifies a People, affirms the statement by reviewing a number of Hollywood productions with the Arab theme. From the documentary, he further reveals how the film industry in America creates a negative stereotype of people in the Arabs world (Shaheen, 2018). These stereotypes are entrenched in the minds of the Americans. Although the documentary communicates numerous messages to the viewer, it reveals that real-world political events influence film, and, in turn, the film shapes people’s understanding of real-world politics.
The documentary reveals a strong relationship between the film and the country’s political reality. The story affirms that the politics in Washington influenced the film industry in Hollywood and that the media also shaped politics in the country (Shaheen, 2018). Real-life political events shape the content of many movies in Hollywood, including those with Arab characters. The movies reveal the politics of the country and even the world. According to the documentary, while the negative stereotypes of the Arabs were evident in the film, they became more pronounced after the Second World War because of various factors. One of the factors was the American support for Israel in their war with Palestinians. The second aspect was the 1970s’ Arab Oil embargo that led to an increase in the prices of gas. The third reason is the Iranian Revolution, which led to some Americans’ arrest. The event led to new images in the Hollywood films of the Sheik, who became a huge threat to the United States and a crooked tycoon in the oil business and used his fortune to create an economic detriment in America.
Around the 1970s, many American films focused on the stereotyped image of the Arab World. The Arabs were seen as though they wanted to buy of America using the money obtained from the corrupt oil business. For example, the film Network in 1976, a common theme in the United States media, became calls for Americans to rise against the attempt by the Arab tycoons to buy off their country. The mythical fear of the economic ruin on the United States by the Arab people fueled the scenes in the movies. The political players and policy-makers influenced the film industry to create the fear of the economic threat that emanated from the Arab World. A similar threat was used in the past when the Nazis used propaganda to create the fear that German was under the threat of economic domination by Jews (Shaheen, 2018). The Hollywood image of the Arab was akin to that of the Jews created by the Nazis.
Unfortunately, the media distorts the image of the Arabs in their media products, according to Shaheen. The media has a major influence on people’s views and thoughts about the content. Considering that the media is the closest tool people have to understand the real-world, they become easily convinced that what they see is the actual representation of world politics and affairs. According to the documentary, although many images presented in the media are distorted, people believe they are the “reality.” They, in turn, influence what people think about the characters, such as the Arab people. Shaheen suggests that such views feed and poison the minds of the viewers, mainly young generations. They develop infected ideas regarding Arab people. The author uses the Disney motion picture, Aladdin, to explain the films’ detrimental impact on young Americans’ minds regarding Arabs and their world (Shaheen, 2018). The media remain a powerful tool that influences the view of the people regarding political events in the country and beyond.
While Hollywood films have various presentations of the Arab people, they are mainly influenced by the political reality of the time and shape people’s understanding of real-world politics. Shaheen uses the documentary to show the world the way American political and policy views have influenced popular culture, especially regarding the Arab World. Unfortunately, the distorted images hold true to the old and the young because most of the films about the Arab people have a distorted view. For example, Aladdin, a motion picture film for younger viewers, shapes the negative image of dictatorial power and control of resources among Arab leaders. Given that the media is the most powerful tool that opens up the world to the viewer, it easily convinces them that the content represents the world of politics. Unfortunately, Hollywood has a very high number of films that vilify Arab characters, which explains the high level of the distorted view of politics and life in the Arab world and the Arabs living in America.
In Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People, Shaheen communicates clearly that the American film industry is stereotyped against Arabs and their world. Hollywood corrupts and manipulates the “Arabland” image. The author uses movies with Arab and Muslim characters to reveal the erroneous portrayal of the Arab people, their culture, and the world. He also reveals how the film industry demeans the Arab people and their ways of life (Shaheen, 2018). He argues that the images portray the people as savages, bandits, and nomadic races that lack civilization. They also reveal the “Arabland” as breeding grounds for criminals and terrorists, including women. Although the documentary contains other stereotypes against Arabs, it shows the portrayal of Arabs and creates stereotypes of “Arabland” and the way they relate to gender and Arab women.
From the beginning of the film, Shaheen reveals the stereotypes of Arabs and “Arabland.” He argues with authority regarding the negative images of the region after watching one thousand films created in America targeting Arabs. The films are also stereotyped against the Arabs’ behaviors and morals. The “Arabland,” is a mythical theme park in the American movies that creates a stereotyped image of the Arab people (Shaheen, 2018). It is a world that is filled with violence and thirst for money and power. The world is created in a way that generates an entirely negative image of Arabs, such as terrorists. American politics play an essential role in the stereotyped view of the Arabs and their world. For example, they would represent Arabs as economic monsters responsible for the high prices of oil in the United States. They focused on the detrimental economic policy in the Arab world as targeted towards finishing America politically. The movies portray the Arab world negatively, from the oil crisis because of the refusal of the Arab countries to export oil to the United States and the Al-Qaeda activities in the American soil, such as the Sept 11, 2001 attack. Hence, applying such events, the media paints a tainted image of the “Arabland” in the minds of American citizens.
The American film industry has a special place for the “Arabland” and the Arabs. Various stereotypes are revealed in the documentary, such as the evil character who is always planning evil, such as terrorism, against Americans and the western civilization in general. Constant attacks, explosions, stabbings, shootings, and offenses characterize the “Arabland” in the movies. Notably, the movies create a chaotic world in the “Arabland” (Shaheen, 2018). The people of the Arabland are revealed as being naïve and only focused on war, violence, and material gains. The leaders show minimal concern for their subjects as they pursue their self-interests. The “Arabland” comprise the Bedouin Arab character, which is uncivilized and lives in a remote world in tents with their camels. The people of the land are arrogant and lack emotions, while men are highly aggressive and oppressive towards their women. Therefore, the gendered stereotype is another standard feature in the movies featuring Arab characters.
The stereotypes of the “Arabland” is also reflected in the way the films present the Arab woman. According to Shaheen, the image of Arab women is distorted and fails to represent them in reality. For example, the films portray them as bellydancers or faceless. They are presented as anonymous figures in black robes. They are also revealed as being shallow and servants of wicked, naïve, and avaricious Arab sheiks. In more recent films, the filmmakers have presented them as terrorists. In some films, such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) and Homeland (TV series), Arab women hide under the black robes to perpetrate acts of terror, especially against Americans (Shaheen, 2018). The author suggests that the movies mask the reality that Arab women represent their cultures and values like any other women. They are as intelligent, talented, and equal as women in different cultures worldwide.
Overall, the documentary Reel Bad Arabs –How Hollywood Vilifies a People exposes how Hollywood films have stereotypically shown the “Arabland” and its people. The films project the Arab culture as being full of villains. The media has created and repeated the stereotyped images that they are entrenched in the minds of the viewers. The non-stop clips of Hollywood movies reveal how industry has perpetuated the stereotyped views of Arabs as greedy, violent, and oversexed. They are stereotypes that are worse than those against blacks and Jews. The films are representative of the Americans’ views of the Arabs. The filmmakers create a fictional setting, which they refer to as the “Arabland.” They use a mythical theme park to portray a distorted image of the Arabs. However, just like it is fictitious, the mythical scene is erroneous and fails to represent the real Arab land.
Shaheen, J. (2018). Reel bad arabs: How Hollywood vilifies a people. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WONkD3S7ys
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