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Critic Says Hollywood Abuses Arab Bogeyman

One critic is getting very critical of Hollywood's portrayal of Arabs and Muslims in film and television. Jack Shaheen, an American of Lebanese decent, told Reuters that in America, where it is politically incorrect to make derogatory comments about other groups like African Americans or Jews, there is no social taboo against reinforcing damaging Arab or Muslim stereotypes.

In his latest book, Guilty, Shaheen says that the an anti-Arab tendency was present before September 11th. Disney's Aladdin (1992) and Father of the Bride Part II both fail the test. (Remember the Arab guy trying to buy Steve Martin's house?)

But, since September 11th, the vilifying has picked up. Shaheen writes that
2006's The Kingdom presented some of the most damaging depictions of Arabs in which "even Arab children cannot be trusted." Movies that make the A-list? Shaheen says Babel (2006) and Rendition (2007) presented a more complex view of Arabs.

Do American movies and television shows rely on the "Arab bogeyman"? Why do you think American society tolerates such indiscriminate demonization?


Join The Conversation
vasanta vasanta 9 years
in our pc world, there arent many groups you can freely belittle. but the groups that are still available are arabs, conservative christian sects, indians from india, and white men. am i right? and jasmine is not depicted in her clothing as an arab girl, but rather as a harem girl, a belly dancer. thus the bra top is aok.
Sun_Sun Sun_Sun 9 years
i think in general, racism is now acceptable and sometimes encouraged in the US when it is directed at arabs and muslims. its sad that the cycle keeps repeating itself.
zeze zeze 9 years
Something I have always noticed about Aladdin was that Jasmine always had the most jewelry of the Princesses and the sassiest mouth. She was actually the opposite of most of the stereotypes, of women in general. Jumping buildings, rejecting princes... I mean what did Cinderella do besides cry to godmother and whine to the mice?
foxie foxie 9 years
Uhh... Bengal, I was agreeing with you. I love the idea of the Khalil Gibran school (I may be biased, since I am in love with Khalil Gibran).
Bettyesque Bettyesque 9 years
:oy: My gals said it all.
Michelann Michelann 9 years
What's wrong with Aladdin? I know it wasn't exactly historically accurate, but no Disney movies are. It's a children's fantasy. And the heroes are Arab. People always complain that there isn't enough diversity in Disney movies, and that there are no minorities represented in the Disney princesses. But then we have a great kids movie like Aladdin, and people still complain. I don't get it.
raciccarone raciccarone 9 years
I am also sick of being portrayed as a mindless, angry scavenger who does nothing but eat trash! Think about how that is. Every time I walk into a 7-11 I'm always followed around the aisles. Forget about getting a loan. I'm just sick of it.
yesteryear yesteryear 9 years
i agree with this assessment. however, i think the portrayal of gays in movies and TV is much worse. yeah, it sucks always being typecast as the terrorist... but imagine always having to be the one-dimensional "wacky" best friend... now THAT's rough.
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 9 years
I agree on the geographical point bengalspice, but isn't this more about offense to culture rather than geographic identity as the article suggests. As a prominently quad-racial individual myself taking racial/cultural traits from a back ground of Mexican, Spanish, African Amer., and Anglo French Canadian thanks to my grandparents. I grew up never thinking about race. Everyone was/is just an individual to me. For instance your example of Aladin being portrayed as a thief. I simply saw him as a homeless kid trying to survive not an (Arab) thief.
cine_lover cine_lover 9 years
Bengal, I work in the industry, and I can tell you, Hollywood is not looking for integrity in their films. They are looking for a quick buck. They do it to all cultures. I think it stands out to you on the Asian culture like it stands out to me how they depict Greeks and Catholics, or Conservatives.
bengalspice bengalspice 9 years
cine- so far the only Hollywood movie I've seen where Asia has been done proper justice [in my personal and specialized opinion] was The Namesake. I also know most people didn't appreciate how half the movie was in Bengali ... but it was as real and as beautiful a depiction of Indians in America as any Hollywood movie can get. Tabu is also very hott :-P Hollywood in general will just end up butchering a culture that they don't take the time to understand, nor to employ directors from that culture. I have friends who are aspiring directors and screenwriters who keep getting their work turned down ... but then you get a tv show like Aliens in America. I dunno about you, but it makes no sense that a Muslim character has a Hindu-sounding name.
bengalspice bengalspice 9 years
foxie - there's a school in the Bronx especially for Latino kids that conducts classes in Spanish. Why is that fair and not a school for Arab kids that is also open to anyone else interested in learning a foreign language other than the common selection of Spanish, Italian, and French? It's not like going to Latin school or Hebrew school where you are learning the language for religious purposes. The Khalil Gibran school wasn't interested in teaching Arabic for religious purposes, and the media totally blew it out of proportions by reporting that the principal was affiliated with anti-America Muslim groups.
cine_lover cine_lover 9 years
Well they did make a movie about Greeks with out any Greeks, so Hollywood can do it. So then you just want Asian actors in films not films about Asia?
bengalspice bengalspice 9 years
I agree with zeze. The Arab world is getting such a bad rep now ... sadly this country probably will move onto another group to ridicule as soon as they realize they've killed the subject. Until then, though, it pretty much sucks if you look Arab or are Muslim.
bengalspice bengalspice 9 years
Aladdin was also a thief that got rich due to luck ... Stealing is a crime last I checked.
zeze zeze 9 years
Hello 24! I think the reason Arabs/Muslims stands out right now is because being Arab is the 2008 version of being a witch in olden days, it's the being black of the civil war days, it's the being asian of the pearl harbor days. Movies pick up on reality, all movies have fear and heroes and blah blah blah, and if you really want to give people the intense emotions you have to give them what is out there, make it real. So, it's both. Are arabs being picked on more than other races at this point in time (relative to the treatment of Arabs in movies before...nearly nonexistent) YES. Is it any different than any other group before that society turned on because basic human nature is not ideal and can't help but grab on to the "us" and "them" mentality, especially on a guilt-free fictional scale? No. I'm sure it will blow over after a decade or two and we'll all move on to some other group, because that is what we do. ...that being said, good for him, with the elevated fear and hate there needs to be elevated reactions to counter the fear and slow-down the mob, to balance thing out as much as possible.
bengalspice bengalspice 9 years
Ken Watanabe might have been one of the heroes of Last Samurai ... but it was Tom Cruise that got top billing. And the movie was about an Asian society. How would Hollywood do a movie about Japan without Japanese actors???? I think my favorite movie so far with Asian actors as leads has been Harold & Kumar. Kal Penn is awesome! hypnoticmix ... the original characters of Aladdin are Chinese. The story takes place in a Muslim territory in East Asia. 1,0001 Arabian Nights are stories that take place around Asia, not just the Middle East.
hausfrau hausfrau 9 years
Em I didn't even know that about rob! wow, i'm sorry! :)
subtleheights subtleheights 9 years
I say everyone has to point out someone else to hide their own evil faults.The arabs are it right now.
em1282 em1282 9 years
Also, maybe I'm alone on this one, but as someone who's Asian/Latina, I don't really think I care about how people of those races are portrayed in movies. If someone thinks all Asians are like Long Duck Dong from "Sixteen Candles", then that's their own problem. I don't know...the only thing I'm embarassed about is that Rob Schneider is half-Filipino.
em1282 em1282 9 years
But...raciccarone, all Irish people just own pubs and go around singing with their guitars, and they can all make cable-knit sweaters and sound like they've got a pot of gold waiting for you at the end of each story they tell so wonderfully.
raciccarone raciccarone 9 years
I am comfortable with the ways Hollywood portrays Arabs. However, I wish they would finally show the Irish for the filthy animals they are.
foxie foxie 9 years
Bengal, are you talking about the Khalil Gibran school? That whole situation was insane. I don't think the media is necessarily to blame though, and even if it is, we shouldn't give special treatment to Arabs while everyone else gets made fun of constantly. The saddest thing about that school controversy is that no one opposed to it even gave a second thought to all the GOOD having Arabic-speaking Americans would do for the country. Those children could be future problem-solvers and provide all kinds of intel to the country. It took me about 2 years to learn Arabic, these children could learn it so much quicker and be more fluent just because they're still young. *sigh!*
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 9 years
Well I'm sure the African American boogie man is very happy to see the Arab boogie man. No doubt. I'm not quite sure why Aladdin is on the bad list since the hero is Arab and the story took place in an Arab land so obviously the boogie man would also be Arab, not German frauleines.
cine_lover cine_lover 9 years
No but I would like to see that list. But I truly love Disney. Although, I think Walt would turn in his grave he saw what they have become.
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