Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People

By Suleiman, Michael W. | The Middle East Journal, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People

Suleiman, Michael W., The Middle East Journal

Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People, by Jack G. Shaheen. New York: Olive Branch Press, 2001. viii + 537 pages. Notes to p. 545. Appendices to p. 564. Index of films to p. 574. $25 paper.

Reviewed by Michael W. Suleiman

While Arabs, Muslims, and their communities in the United States have repeatedly complained about their negative portrayal in American movies, and while their complaints have been echoed and reported by various scholars, only now, with the publication of Reel Bad Arabs, is there a comprehensive documentation of Hollywood's vilification of these people. And for that effort, we are greatly indebted to Jack Shaheen, who has undertaken the monumental task of reviewing over 900 films produced over a period of a century in which Arabs, Islam or the Middle East are featured in some way.

The results of this huge survey reinforce earlier sketchy impressions, namely that, apart from very few exceptions duly noted by Shaheen, Hollywood films, starting in 1896, have portrayed Arabs in the most negative light, presenting them as uncivilized, fanatic, anti-Western, and anti-Jewish. Hollywood, as Shaheen concludes, has "indicted all Arabs as Public Enemy #1" (p. 2). This is in great contrast to the real Arabs Shaheen details, who are good, decent people, like any others.

While the portrayal of Arabs and Muslims (Hollywood normally does not distinguishbetween the two groups) is predominantly negative, Shaheen discovers variations on the main theme. He concludes that there are five basic Arab types in these movies: Villains, Shaykhs, Maidens, Egyptians, and Palestinians. As villains, Arabs are seen as lecherous, slavers, and generally as people who are hostile to the West, especially the United States. Arab shaykhs were at first presented as lazy and fat pleasure-- seekers. More recently, they are seen as oily, fabulously wealthy, militant, and generally offensive in their character.

The "Maidens" type presents Arab women as subservient and dumb, but also as conniving vamps. In either case, they are never seen as worthy of marrying a Westerner. The "Egyptians" type focuses on mummies, vilifying the people in the process; alternatively, sometimes Egyptians are presented as pro-Nazi. Movies about the Palestinians dehumanize them and disassociate them from their homeland. They are also presented as terrorists.

Shaheen offers several reasons for this pervasive and negative stereotyping.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?