EDUCATION AND MEDIA: Filming the Modern Middle East: Politics in the Cinemas of Hollywood and the Arab World

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EDUCATION AND MEDIA Filming the Modern Middle East: Politics in the Cinemas of Hollywood and the Arab World, by Lina Khatib. London, UK and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2006. viii + 209 pages. Bibl. to p. 227. Filmography to p. 231. Indexes to p. 242. $74.95 cloth; $26.95 paper.

Reviewed by Rasha Allam

In Filming the Modern Middle East: Politics in the Cinemas of Hollywood and the Arab World, Lina Khatib explains the powerful impact of the cinema in the formation of different cultures. She then examines in depth how politics informs the cinematic representations of the modern Middle East by Hollywood and its Arab counterparts.

In chapter one, Khatib explores the various meanings of the term "space." According to Khatib and other scholars, space refers to the physical place. However, space can also be defined, more profoundly, as the production of knowledge that enables the imposition of power over physical space and over others. Whereas in the US cinema space is always dealt with as masculine, in the Arab cinema it is regarded as feminine (e.g., calling Egypt "the mother of the world"). This goes back to the genre and the kinds of movies produced in the two cinemas, as most US films are action movies that often glorify Americans, while Arab movies tend to be melodramas. These differences are enhanced by cinematic technical means. In the US cinema, wide and mid-air shots are prevalent, reflecting mastery over the Other's space; Arab films rely more on mid-shots and close-ups to capture an intimate, circumscribed view.

In chapter two, "Gendered Tools of Nationalism," Khatib gives an insightful account of the ways that women's roles are delineated in the US and the Arab cinemas. In particular, she sheds light on the usage of masculinity or femininity in political situations. For instance, US films use men who fight Arab Others in order to maintain their American identity. In contrast, Arab films use women as the tool that enables cultural construction of the Arab nation and as a tool that discriminates between the Self and the Other. In Egyptian movies, bodies of women are used as national boundaries. Veiled women reflect the suppressive quality of Islamic fundamentalism, while the modern look for females reflects the modernization of Egypt. …