Magazine article New Internationalist

Hook Noses and Harems: Hollywood Thrillers Have a Lot to Answer for, Feels Reem Haddad

Magazine article New Internationalist

Hook Noses and Harems: Hollywood Thrillers Have a Lot to Answer for, Feels Reem Haddad

Article excerpt

I CAN tell immediately. If an Arab appears in an action movie then you can be almost certain that he will be a terrorist. If the movie is set in the Middle East, then the local people must be backward - and unattractive. Without fail. I automatically switch the channel. Now, more than ever, Arabs are being portrayed as ignorant and brutal.

As for Beirut, according to Hollywood, it is a bullet-ridden city where militants run around freely and where Hizbullah fighters roam the streets threatening citizens. Never mind that the civil war ended 13 years ago and the city has been rebuilt.

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Even in cartoons, Arabs are the 'bad' guys who kidnap the heroines. Remember Disney's Aladdin? The opening song depicted the Arab world as '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.' It took a lot of work from American-Arab anti-discrimination activists in the US to change some of the lyrics for the video version.

And of course such stereotypes inform real life, too. I remember when, fleeing from the Lebanese civil war, we went to the US in the late 1980s and I enrolled in the local high school just outside Washington DC. On a tour of the school, my student guide planted me in front of a television set and said rather loudly: 'This is a TELEVISION, we watch moving pictures on it.'

A few days later, curious students asked me how my father managed his camels and oil wells and did I know what a church was. I think if I were to meet them now, they would ask me where my father's terrorist cells are.

Of course, if you see nothing different in popular movies, then it's hard to shake off such ignorance. Physically, Arab men are portrayed with unshaven beards, long noses, head kaffiyas and dirty clothes. …

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