Stereotypes in and Out: Decision-Making in Hollywood

Article excerpt

Recent films about gays and lesbians have revealed a shift in attitude on the part of filmmakers, says Associated Press writer John Horn. We no longer see gays portrayed as brutal, as in Cruising, or as limp-wristed interior designers, as in Father of the Bride or Beverly Hills Cop. The new film In & Out aims to be a warmhearted comedy in which a high school English teacher, played by Kevin Klein, is "outed" on national television and then is encouraged to stay out by a gay TV reporter, played by Tom Selleck. Both men are sympathetically presented.

Horn suggests that this approach is partly "the product of a studio system in which gay men increasingly occupy prominent positions of authority--everywhere from the Walt Disney Co. to Warner Bros. to Dreamworks SKG. Fair depictions don't come until there's a power base."

The conclusion is hard to deny. Consider how Arabs are consistently portrayed in negative terms, and are brought in whenever a film needs an enemy. The closing battle in G.I. Jane, for example, involves a group of Libyans who provide Demi Moore with the opportunity to demonstrate that, having been trained as a Navy SEAL, she can kill as ruthlessly as a man. Horn attributes these pejorative images to the fact that Arab-Americans have little presence in Hollywood. The same is true of Latinos. These groups "have little if any representation at the studio decision-making level. Consequently, these minorities are largely voiceless: not only are there not that many movies about them, but also those few films might not be altogether flattering."

Jack Shaheen, an Arab-American who has studied the media's stereo-typing of his community over the past few decades, told Horn: "I don't think Americans of Arab heritage have enough clout" to bring about change. Shaheen, who teaches communication at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, points out that Arab-americans have little leverage in Hollywood. "The only leverage we have is to appeal to the human decency of those people producing these images."

Most movies and television programs portray Arabs as "either oil-rich sheiks, terrorists or buffoons," observes Shaheen. "Rarely are Arabs shown to be lawyers, doctors, mothers, dads--ordinary people whose ethnicity is irrelevant. What Hollywood is saying is it's patriotic and morally correct to project anti-Semitic images as long as those Semites are Arabs."

Attitudes toward gays, Arab-Americans and Latinos are shaped by Hollywood image-makers. …