Hollywood Brainwashing Exposed – How the movie industry vilifies an entire people


Many may be familiar with the American drama ‘Homeland’ (based on an Israeli TV programme) that is now being telecast in the UK. Its plot revolves around a CIA agent who believes an American soldier, once held captive by al-Qaeda, was brainwashed and now threatens the United States. The series – a favourite of President Barack Obama – received much criticism for its negative stereotypical portrayal of Arabs – as well as the 85% of Muslims who aren’t Arab.

Hollywood Brainwashing Exposed - How the movie industry vilifies an entire people

This must be a boon to the extreme right-wing fringe that includes the British National Party and English Defence League, along with their Zionist admirers, whose sole purpose, political agenda and entire existence depend on encouraging and fostering racist stereotypes.

The documentary Reel Bad Arabs challenges this mindset.

Rules of Engagement (2000)

The film, based on the best-selling book of the same name – and the first-ever to look at this issue – is by noted American author, professor and media consultant Jack Shaheen, a recipient of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Shaheen’s research shows that out of 1,000 American films produced from 1896 to 2000 that have Arabic or Muslim characters, only 12 featured “positive” depictions, 52 were “even-handed” and over 900 were “negative.”

Shaheen presents evidence that Hollywood’s images are linked by an overriding political agenda. As Shaheen says: “It’s not a documentary that has a political stance – it’s pro-justice and pro-human. What’s extremely important about this documentary is that it will have a profound impact on whoever sees it, because the visuals are so devastating, are so evil and horrific that anyone – even someone who is prejudiced – cannot help but be moved by the fact that for over a century, Hollywood has been vilifying all things Arab.”

Throughout Reel Bad Arabs, Shaheen matter-of-factly chronicles the pattern of negative Arab stereotyping in American cinema, moving from the earliest days of silent film to Hollywood blockbusters and examines persistent Arab caricatures whose European origins are similar to negative and demeaning stereotypes of other ethnic groups that are today labelled as “racist” and “politically incorrect.”

From the dawn of cinematic history, Arabs have been portrayed as “thieves, charlatans, murderers, and brutes.” Many films often include villanous Arab characters or negative references to Arabs, despite the movies’ plots having anything at all to do with Arabs or the Middle East. In the 1985 film, Back to the Future and 1995′s Father of the Bride 2, Arabs are often called on to fill the role when the plotline calls for villains.

Even Disney’s 1992 animated film Aladdin contains images, songs and dialogue that can bias children’s attitudes towards Arabs. The opening song of Aladdin surprisingly includes these lyrics:

“I come from a land, from a faraway place where the caravan camels roam, where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face – it’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.”

“I come from a land, from a faraway place…”

Disney is not the only offender. Cinema is filled with negative stereotypes that depict Arab men as marauding tribesmen, violent terrorists, oil sheiks and Arab women as belly dancers and harem girls.

Shaheen argues that stereotypes began to change for the worse after the Second World War and highlights three major events (excluding 9/11): The Palestinian-Israeli conflict (with the American Government’s overwhelming support of Israel), the Arab oil embargo (that sharply increased the cost of petrol for consumers) and the (non-Arabic) Iranian revolution of 1979 (a national disgrace for Americans, whose diplomats were held hostage for over a year).

These three events, Shaheen says, shaped how modern films stereotyped the Arab world and Arabs, often featuring them as “machine gun-wielding and bomb-blowing terrorists.”

The chapter entitled ‘Terror Inc – Demonizing Palestinians and Muslims,’ includes clips from Exodus (1960), a film based on events surrounding the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. Described by many as a “Zionist epic,” Exodus was instrumental in encouraging the American Government’s support for Israel during the early 1960’s and portrayed Israelis as innocent victims of Palestinian terror. Dialogue from another film; Cast a Giant Shadow (1966), includes a description of Israelis as: “People fighting with their bare hands for a little piece of desert” while Palestinians are portrayed as perpetrators of horrific acts of violence.

Palestinians and Arabs are NEVER portrayed as victims

In 1979, Israeli film producers Menachem Golan and Yoram Globus bought the American film company Cannon Films and produced a string of anti-Arab films like Hell Squad (1985), Invasion USA (1985), The Delta Force (1986), Delta Force II (1986) and Killing Streets (1991) which vilified all things Palestinian and perpetuated the stereotype of Arab terrorists in action films.

Shaheen rightly points out that American image makers never show Palestinians who suffer under occupation, live in refugee camps or who are victimised or killed and concludes the chapter by asking why Palestinians are not humanised in films the way American image makers humanise Israelis and reminds us that all life – Palestinian as well as Israeli – is of equal value.

Films such as 1998′s Hideous Kinky, featuring Kate Winslet, 1999′s Three Kings; a drama about a Iraqi gold heist during the first Persian Gulf War, 2005′s Paradise Now; about two Palestinian suicide bombers, Syriana; a geopolitical oil thriller and Kingdom of Heaven; a film that takes place in Jerusalem during the crusades of the 12th century are all held up as positive examples that portray Arabs as much more than stereotypical one-dimensional characters.

By inspiring thinking about the consequences of leaving degrading caricatures and stereotypes unexamined, Reel Bad Arabs calls for recognition of the need for counter-narratives that does justice to the diversity and humanity of Arab people and the reality and richness of their history and culture.

Reel Bad Arabs concludes on an optimistic note with Shaheen predicting that the negative stereotyping of Arabs will eventually end, thanks to a new generation of image makers, but urges viewers not to remain silent:

I think whenever we see anyone being vilified on a regular basis, we have to speak up whether we are image makers or not. We have to take a stand and say it is morally and ethically wrong to demonise a people.

Reel Bad Arabs TRAILER

Reel Bad Arabs DOCUMENTARY (50 min)

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