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This simple truth of how Arab in whole are vilified in both media and
movies needs to be told. Just as other ethnic groups before, their
voices need to be heard so that hate crimes and discrimination can be
avoided. The first step is through documentaries such as this one. The
narrator, Jack Shaheen has written other great books such as The TV
Arab, which in text shows and uncovers a lot of the same
criminalization of Arabs through movies and TV series, as well as the
mainstream media. The next step is by telling people about these
documentaries so that people can become informed about the truth. Jack
Shaheen approaches this delicate yet critical topic in the most
respectable and professional manner.
This 50-minute documentary analyzes the way Arabs have been shown in Hollywod films, from the black-and-white classics to recent films like Syriana. The film, narrated by Jack Shaheen, consists of virtually non-stop clips from American films, organized by topic, including "Myths of Arabland," "the Arab Threat," "Terror, Inc.," "The Only Good Arab," "Islamophobia," and "Getting Real." The thesis of the film is that Hollywood has perpetuated stereotypes of Arabs as violent, greedy, and oversexed, stereotypes that would not be tolerated of other groups such as Blacks and Jews. Shaheen argues that the films are an aspect of an American view of Arabs that is broadly shared by common people and by the politically powerful, and he includes a number of films that have been made with the cooperation of the Department of Defense. The impact of his footage is quite powerful. In the last segment Shaheen talks about several recent films that begin to break down the stereotypes. He ends with an expression of hope in young, creative filmmakers who are moving beyond the ignorant and bigoted depictions from Hollywood's past.
Kudos to Dr. Jack Shaheen for his no nonsense and uncomforting look at how not only Hollywood movies but even children's cartoon shows have demonized, dehumanized and wrought havoc on the peoples of the Middle East, Islam, Iran and Palestinians. From the early pre-20th century colonial images of Arabs and Iranians as the aggressive, sub-human Other, Reel Bad Arabs dives into 100 plus years of movies that have stereotype Arabs as lecherous, dangerous and lesser from both children and adult movies. The saddening part of this demonization is that most of these stereotypes are practically unnoticeable to any movie goer or viewer. No matter how many time one watches movies where the Middle East is automatically associated with terror or oppression of women will one think of an alternative more positive or balanced view of the region or the peoples who live there. The negative stereotype of Arabs and Iranians have passed through so many generations continuously through frequent television stations such as FX, Spike TV, TNT, & even Cartoon Network (older repeating cartoon shows from the early 30's & 40's vilify and insult the culture and hertiage of the Middle East) it is little wonder the War on Terror wasn't criticized until four to five years after it started on September 11! As Shaheen argues we have been so ingrained, propagandized and filled with the negative images of Arabs and Iranians as people who are lesser or "The Other" that it is little wonder wars in Iraq, Palestine-Israel, Sudan continues and the deaths of Iraqis, Palestinians, Israelis and Darfuris do not matter or count as newsworthy to the general public. High recommendation for all students, parents and politicians who fail to see what generations of negative stereotyping can have on a society as a whole!
During my childhood and my last 30 years in America I had to explain to people why my family do not look and act like the Arabs in the movies.This documentary shows a consistent pattern of portraying Muslim and Arabs as enemies ,evil and not trustworthy.It is the same way Hollywood portrayed African Americans,Indians and other minorities.This exploitation is not new.I commend Dr.Jack Shaheen effort to inform the movie industry that their act is contributing to misunderstanding and hatred among nations, religions and cultures .He must have spent so many hours watching boring movies to collect these facts.Other nation see us through our movies.No wander there is no trust between us and the Arabs. This documentary open our eyes to a subject many of us do not notice when we watch a movie.
There is no doubt that Arabs, like almost any non-White group, have
been stereotyped and demeaned in countless films. But Dr. Shaheen's
argument - that any portrayal of Arabs as terrorists is inherently
racist - is a flawed one. The fact is that there are Arab terrorists
out there, just as there are Irish, Basque, Japanese, and home-grown
White American terrorists in the world, and as long they continue to
commit atrocities they are fair game to be movie villains. What is
needed, however, is more "normal" roles for Arab actors (i.e.
characters that White actors could play with no change to the script).
When, in Sin City, Irish mercenaries planted explosives in an attempt
to kill the protagonist there was no out-cry from public, no
protestations that the movie attempted to stereotype all Irish
Catholics as IRA members and terrorists. This is because everyday we
see in television shows and movies perfectly normal Irish Catholic
characters. Shaheen is right that ubiquitous images of Arab terrorists,
especially since they already play into our existing stereotypes, do
nothing for our national discourse nor our sense of tolerance. But I
wish he had stayed away from proclaiming ALL such representations
off-limits. It's hard enough to keep up with existing PC taboos...
Note: While I have devoted this review to an evaluation of the documentary's argument, my score of 4/10 comes also from the poor technical aspects of the "film." It is really just an extended interview with a talking head. Expect to see it in college classrooms but rarely elsewhere.
The point of this documentary: Arabs, Palestinians, and Muslims are
unfairly portrayed in cinema. Sure. I believe that. But so are most
minorities. Everybody knows this.
There are many, many flaws in this documentary. First, it assumes that we are stupid, and that we believe everything Hollywood tells us. Wrong. I am friends with quite a few Muslims, and I don't think they're terrorists. Nor do I watch many movies with Arab stereotypes. In fact, of all the movies cited in the documentary, I've only seen "Aladdin." And when I do see stereotypes, I can differentiate them from real life. This documentary even gives existing examples of positive Arab portrayals in films like "Syriana," "Three Kings," and "Kingdom of Heaven." Gee, how groundbreaking. If Shaheen can find the good Arab roles, then any movie audience can, too. And they can recognize them.
Secondly, this documentary poorly made. "Reel Bad Arabs" is, as another reviewer said, a talking head giving examples. And it's only one talking head. Any work of nonfiction, whether it be a documentary or a news article or a book, cannot survive on one expert opinion alone. And this documentary definitely doesn't. The narrator, Jack Shaheen doesn't even have screen presence. This documentary is just 50 minutes of him whining into a camera in an effort to advertise his book on the same subject.
Thirdly, this movie is unnecessary. Here's the basic point: Some movies stereotype Arabs, but there are also some movies that don't. What Jack Shaheen should have done was just to give us a list of the "bad" movies and a list of the "good" movies and leave it at that. That would have taken two minutes at most, instead of this fifty-minute run-on. We would have been able to figure out what the stereotypes were (once again, we're not stupid), and that the good portrayals were the ones where Arabs acted like actual human beings.
P.S. Did anyone else notice how Shaheen used the original line from "Arabian Nights" (Aladdin)--"Where they cut off your ear/ If they don't like your face"--when nobody sees that version anymore? All video released use the line: "Where it's flat and immense/ And the heat is intense." That controversy was closed off long ago and is now irrelevant. Like the rest of this documentary.
Hollywood's treatment of Arabs on screen is actually often gentle and
politically-correct, thanks to fear of protests like Mr. Shaheens.
If the depiction of Arab terrorists seems over-the-top in a dumb action-adventure, try looking at pictures of Islamic men about to decapitate a hostage or the carnage after a suicide bombing. Or listen to a Bin Laden video urging Americans to join his efforts to establish a new caliphate. And does Shaheen really want Hollywood to show daily life in Iran, where women have to make sure they are not seen in public with nail polish on their fingers lest they be sent home or even beaten by religious enforcers who roam the streets and shopping centers? How about the stoning of adulterers, or punishment of rape victims, or limb-amputation of petty thieves? Until Islam itself confronts and truly tries to stop the use of random violence against civilians and the application of medieval laws to modern citizens, it's going to have a problem getting good press.
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