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Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People is a documentary film directed by Sut Jhally and produced by Media Education Foundation 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. This image that 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 explains 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.
Jack 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 this view of his after having seen hundreds of films produced, in the past and at 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 these views directly attack the Arabs’ humanity. Furthermore, he mentions how this 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 it was depicted in scenes in several films that heavily abuse the Arabs’ behaviors and morals. Later, Jack starts reviewing some of those distorted images about Arabs, and he draws attention to the 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 pointed the issue of abusing the Arab woman and picturing her with an image that do not for the least bit represent her, which eventually made her gain a very tight position; where she could be dancing in temptation or she could turn in to a terrorist or become suicidal, while the truth is, she is just like all other women in the world; talented, intelligent, and equal in all areas and fields. Shaheen then admits that politics has a big role in affecting Hollywood’s image about Arabs, and moreover, both Hollywood and politics feed and empower the other in a way or another.
Jack Shaheen says, “Each of Hollywood and Washington share the same genes.” 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, 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 claims that of 900 films studied, only 50 or so had shown a neutral image of Arabs, whereas positive images of Arabs appear in far fewer films (countable by fingers).
Arabs stereotypes reportedly found in movies:
The bad Arab character that is always evil and portrayed as a “terrorist” causing explosions, offenses and attacks.
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Reel Bad Arabs – How Hollywood Vilifies a People (Subtitulos en Español)
This groundbreaking documentary dissects a slanderous aspect of cinematic history that has run virtually unchallenged from the earliest days of silent film to today’s biggest Hollywood blockbusters. Featuring acclaimed author Dr. Jack Shaheen, the film explores a long line of degrading images of Arabs–from Bedouin bandits and submissive maidens to sinister sheikhs and gun-wielding “terrorists”–along the way offering devastating insights into the origin of these stereotypic images, their development at key points in US history, and why they matter so much today.
Shaheen shows how the persistence of these images over time has served to naturalize prejudicial attitudes toward Arabs and Arab culture, in the process reinforcing a narrow view of individual Arabs and the effects of specific US domestic and internationl policies on their lives. By inspiring critical thinking about the social, political, and basic human consequences of leaving these Hollywood caricatures unexamined, the film challenges viewers to recognize the urgent need for counter-narratives that do justice to the diversity and humanity of Arab people and the reality and richness of Arab history and culture.