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Lecture 14: The New Terrorizing Other

Aladdin (1992) Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker

Professor Michael Green

Previous Lecture
Summary: Hegemonic Race and Gender Representation Latinas in Film: A Historical Overview Jennifer Lopez: Latina Star in an Age of Multiculturalism

This Lecture
Arab representation in Hollywood: Real Arabs vs. Reel Arabs Common cinematic Arab stereotypes Aladdin and The New World Order

Arab Representation in Hollywood: Real Arabs vs. Reel Arabs

True Lies (1994) Directed by James Cameron

Lecture 14: Part I

Pre-Hollywood Stereotypes
Muslim and Arab stereotypes have existed since well before the advent of cinema.
18th and 19th century European artists and writers caricatured the Middle East as full of desolate deserts, corrupt palaces and heathen Arabs.

The Arabian Nights

In particular, the hugely popular Arabian Nights stories allowed fictional renditions of wild foreigners, exotic concubines and slave bazaars to become real depictions - and an indelible part of European culture.

Early Film Arab Stereotypes

During the early 20th century, pioneering filmmakers such as Georges Mlis drew on existing Arab stereotypes from other mediums and perpetuated those images in early cinema. In such movies as The Palace of Arabian Nights (1905) Mlis and others created a mythic Arabia in which Arabs ride camels, brandish scimitars, hang out in desert oases and fetishize European women.

The Arab in Hollywood

As it has with every other non-Anglo people, American cinema has stereotyped, marginalized, silenced and downright vilified Arabs since its inception.
Hollywood has improved its representation of other races and ethnicities over time. However, Hollywood and the mainstream U.S. media in general continues to vilify and dehumanize Arabs.

The Cultural Other

For Hollywood, Arabs have always been the cultural other, seen as different and threatening in terms of race and religion and depicted as brutal, heartless, uncivilized religious fanatics, bent on terrorizing civilized Westerners.

Familiar Arab Stereotypes

In countless movies, Arabs are invariably stereotyped as murderers, rapists, oil-rich dimwits, abusers of women and jihadists.
Other common stereotypes include:
Black beards; headdresses; dark sunglasses; palm trees; oases; hooked noses; belly dancers; limousines; harem maidens; oil wells; camels; automatic weapons; and cries to Allah.
Pause the lecture and watch the clip from True Lies.

Real Arabs
Of course, real Arabs are much more complex and varied than reel Arabs:
300 million or so Arabs as well as Persians and Kurds live in 22 nations in the Middle East. Because of the history of occupation - including French, English and Greek - there exists a mixed ethnicity in the Arab world. Geographically, the Arab world is 1 1/2 times as large as the United States.

Most Arabs are Muslim, but there are about 15 million Arab Christians as well.

Arab Contribution
The Arabs have made many contributions to civilization, including algebra and the concept of zero.
They have contributed widely to astronomy, geography, agriculture, architecture, law and secular, scientific and philosophical thought.

More Contributions
Arab intellectuals made it feasible for Western scholars to develop and practice advanced educational systems . . . In astronomy Arabs used astrolabes for navigation, star maps, celestial globes, and the concept of the center of gravity. In geography, they pioneered the use of latitude and longitude. They invented the water clock; their architecture inspired the Gothic style in Europe. In agriculture, they introduced oranges, dates, sugar, and cotton, and pioneered water works and irrigation.
Jack G. Shaheen, Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People

Arab People and Lifestyle

The vast majority of Arabs are: peaceful, not violent terrorists or suicide bombers poor, not rich oil sheiks Most do not live in desert tents None are surrounded by Harem maidens Most have never seen an oil well or ridden a camel Their lifestyles defy stereotyping!

Not all Muslims are Arabs

Muslims are Americas fastest growing religious group; about 500,000 reside in the greater Los Angeles area.
Americas six to eight million Muslims frequent more than 2000 mosques, Islamic centers and schools. Most of the worlds 1.1 billion Muslims are Indonesian, Indian or Malaysian.

Only 12% of Muslims are Arabs, a fact systematically ignored by filmmakers. 15

A Shared Past
Arabs, like Jews, are Semites a group of Semitic-speaking peoples of the Near East and northern Africa, including the Arabs, Arameans, Babylonians, Carthaginians, Ethiopians, Hebrews, and Phoenicians.
The term describes not only shared language, but also the extended cultures and ethnicities, as well as the history of varied peoples, associated with the region.

Familiar Racism
It is perhaps not surprising then that Hollywoods image of hook-nosed, robed, money-grubbing, lecherous Arabs parallels past similar representations of Jews in German and U.S cinema and media.

The New Anti-Semitism

. . . the fact remains that it is acceptable to advance anti-Semitism in film - provided the Semites are Arabs. I call this habit of racial and cultural generalization The New Anti-Semitism . . . Not because anti-Semitism against Jews is dead (it isnt) . . . [but] because many of the anti-Semitic films directed against Arabs were released in the last third of the twentieth century, at a time when Hollywood was steadily and increasingly eliminating stereotypical portraits of other groups.
Jack G. Shaheen, Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People

Cannon Films
One example of institutionalized antiSemitism is the mid 1980s filmmaking of the production company Cannon, formed by the producers Menachem Golan and Yoram Globus, the Israeli director of the Film Industry Department.
The producers teamed up to make 26 hateand-terminate-the-Arab movies, including Hell Squad and The Delta Force (1986) both of which featured Palestinian villains.

Influenced by Public Figures

One can make the case that the negative representation of Arabs and other Muslims is often at least partially a reflection of the actions and rhetoric of public officials and journalists.
For example, media speculation that Arab terrorists had been behind the Oklahoma City bombing resulted in 300 hate crimes against Arab Americans, though none were involved in the crime.

Post 9/11
Throughout much of the 2000s, public officials and journalists relentlessly criticized and vilified Arabs and Muslims. Though several Saudi citizens were responsible for the events of 9/11, the overwhelming vilification of Arabs by government and media drowned out any possible balanced representation of them.


For example, President Bush linked 9/11 to Baghdad and, more specifically, stereotypes of Arabs to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq. This War in Iraq, The War on Terror and other U.S. government activities have been recycled, fictionalized and reflected in mainstream entertainment, in movies such as In the Valley of Elah (2007), The Kingdom (2007) and Sryiana (2005); and TV shows such as 24, South Park and Family Guy.

Authors Final Point

Subliminally, the onslaught of the reel Arab conditions how young Arabs and ArabAmericans perceive themselves and others perceive them . . . Explains Magdoline Asfahani, an Arab-American college student: The most common questions I was asked [by classmates] were if I had ever ridden a camel and if my family lived in tents . . . I learned at a very young age that every other movie seemed to feature Arab terrorists.
Jack G. Shaheen, Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People

Common Cinematic Arab Stereotypes

The Siege (1998) Directed by Edward Zwick

Lecture 14: Part II


Illuminating Types
Just as Donald Bogle outlined common Hollywood stereotypes for African Americans mammies, coons, bucks, etc and Charles Ramirez Berg outlined common Hollywood stereotypes for Latinos/as bandidos, harlots, Latin lovers, etc Shaheen has outlined five common Arab stereotypes that reoccur and overlap in Hollywood films: Villains, Sheikhs, Maidens, Egyptians, and Palestinians.

Critical Disclaimer
Note about the stereotype categories as outlined by Shaheen:
Though his research is useful, Shaheens categories of Arab stereotypes are somewhat problematic. First, referring to Arabs as Villains is a bit generic, so we will call them International Villains. Second, he singles out several groups by nationality, which can contribute to the essentializing against them.

(International) Villains
For more than 100 years, in hundreds of movies, Hollywood has singled out Arabs as an American enemy. They have been faced off against every imaginable foe Americans, Europeans, Israelis in comedies and dramas.
Some examples include A Night in Casablanca (1946), The Sad Sack (1957), Never Say Never Again (1983), Ishtar (1987), Frantic (1988), Executive Decision (1996) and The Mummy (1999). 27

Other Villainous Features of Arabs

In Hollywood films, Arabs often:
make easy targets in war movies (The Rules of Engagement). try to rape, kill, or abduct Western women (Taken). enslave and abuse Africans (Gladiator). invade the United States and terrorize innocents. (Executive Decision) try to acquire nuclear weapons (Back to the Future) are seen as tribal savages (Lawrence of Arabia).

Default Cinematic Villain

Especially in the past few decades, in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the historical distance from Nazis, and the improved standing of African Americans and other U.S racial and ethnic groups, Arabs have become go-to villains in Hollywood particularly in movies that depict threats to U.S. national security.
Pause the lecture and watch the clip from The Siege

One particularly egregious recent example of Arabs as villains can be found in The Rules of Engagement (2000). The movie includes scenes of U.S. soldiers slaughtering Yemeni women and children, scenes cheered by some U.S. audiences. The movie reinforces damaging stereotypes, and promotes the dangerous but common idea that all Arabs are Anti-American.
Pause the lecture and watch the clip from The Rules of Engagement

Islam and Holy War

Islam, particularly, comes in for unjust treatment. Todays image makers regularly link the Islamic faith with male supremacy, holy war and acts of terror, depicting Arab Muslims as hostile alien intruders, and as lecherous oily sheikhs intent on using nuclear weapons. When mosques are displayed onscreen, the camera inevitably cuts to Arabs praying, and then gunning down civilians. Such scenarios are common fare.
Jack G. Shaheen, Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People

Illogical Placement
Throughout Hollywood history, Arab villains have even showed up in stories in which they have no logical purpose. They frequently were used in early serials such as Son of Tarzan (1920), Queen of the Jungle (1935) and The Vigilante (1947).
This practice continued, with Arabs showing up as arbitrary villains in such movies as Back to the Future (1985).
Pause the lecture and watch the clip from Back to the Future.

Sheikh literally means wise, elderly person, the head of a family. Muslim leaders are often addressed as sheikhs. Sheikhs have been negatively stereotyped in hundreds of movies.

In early to mid-century films, Sheikhs have been presented as tribal chiefs and indolent, perverted rulers who lounge on thrones. More recently they have been shown as rich, corrupt, oily, militant and ostentatious wearing Ray Bans and reclining in Rolls Royces and Mercedes.
In only a few films, such as Sryiana, Arab leaders have been shown more threedimensionally and realistically.

Arab women are eroticized, humiliated and demonized in a number of features. They often appear as bosomy belly dancers leering out from diaphanous veils, or as scantily-clad harem maidens with bare midriffs, closeted in the palaces womens quarters.

Maidens (Continued)
Other stereotypes include:
Willingness to submit to their owners, as if they relish their sexual mistreatment and enslavement. Appearing as shapeless Bundles of Black or Beasts of Burden, a homogeneous sea of covered women. Being labeled as Black magic vamps or enchantresses possessed of devils. Dark-complexioned Arab femmes fatales who move to woo the American/British hero, but are often rebuffed and disappointed. 36

Egyptian caricatures appear in more than 100 films, from mummy tales to legends of pharaohs and queens to contemporary scenarios. They are often depicted as begging children or devious men after Western women. From the start, moviemakers linked Egypt with the un-dead from Georges Mlis The Monster (1903) to The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008).

More than half of the Palestinian movies were released in the 1980s and 1990s; nineteen from 1983 -1989; nine from 1990 -1998. Absent from Hollywoods Israeli-Palestinian movies are human dramas revealing Palestinians as normal folk computer specialists, domestic engineers, farmers, teachers, and artists. Never do movies present Palestinians as innocent victims and Israelis as brutal oppressors.
Jack G. Shaheen, Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People

Palestinians (continued)
No movie shows Israeli soldiers and settlers uprooting olive orchards, gunning down Palestinian civilians in Palestinian cities. No movie shows Palestinian families struggling to survive under occupation, living in refugee camps, striving to have their own country and passports stating Palestine. Disturbingly, only two scenarios present Palestinian families.
Jack G. Shaheen, Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People

A Few Exceptions
Of course, as with the cinematic representations of all peoples, there are some positive exceptions a few films scattered throughout Hollywood history in which Arabs and Muslims are portrayed sympathetically and even heroically. Such films include Lion of the Desert (1981), Hannah K (1983), Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), The Seventh Coin (1992) and Three Kings (1999), among others.
Pause the lecture and watch the clip from Three Kings.

Aladdin and The New World Order

Aladdin (1992) Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker

Lecture 14: Part III


Aladdin was released in 1992 at the height of the 1990s Disney animation renaissance it followed Beauty and the Beast (1990). The movie draws on both Arab folktales including One Thousand and One Nights as well as traditional Western notions of Arabs and the Middle East.
Despite some complaints from Arab groups that the film was racist, it grossed 217 million dollars to become the biggest hit of the year.

Aladdin and stereotypes

The movie features a number of common Hollywood stereotypes of Arabs and the Middle East, including:
Depicting Arabs as greedy, patriarchal savages and villains and black magic sorcerers.
Depicting the desert and the region as desolate, dirty and dangerous. Depicting Arab women erotically and exotically. Depicting Arabs as duplicitous schemers and Arab rulers as weak, out of touch and foolish.
Pause the lecture and watch clip #1 from Aladdin.

The Racial Politics of Aladdin

The movie constructs its characters to reflect Western racial hierarchies.
Though the hero and heroine are Arab, their skin tone is noticeably whiter than the villains and they speak in the voices of white American teenagers. Meanwhile, the villains are dark Jafar at times is black and they reflect phenotypical Arab stereotypes such as hooked noses, black beards and swarthy builds.
Pause the lecture and watch clip #2 from Aladdin.

The Real World Politics of Aladdin

Alan Nadel argues that Aladdin participates in a series of clichd narratives informing popular American assumptions about the Muslim Middle East, made recognizable though a form of western romance (remember the Imperial Imaginary). He believes that Aladdin draws heavily on U.S. representations of Iran and Iraq in recent decades, as filtered through the lens of the U.S. State Department and intelligence community.

Disguise Narratives
According to Nadal, the disguise narrative of Aladdin in which characters constantly appear as other than they are is an allegory for ambiguous, confused American feelings towards the Middle East.

Shifting Sands
[Contemporary foreign policy] illustrates how vague and protean the Muslim Middle East is to Americans, even to those Americans in the intelligence community; with great facility, the same roles could be played by a secular Arab state or, equally and interchangeably, by a fundamentalist non-Arab state. Foreboding, dark peoples on shifting sands, like characters out of Aladdin, play out the same story of evil in the guise of good in the guise of evil in the guise of good, ad infinitum.
Alan Nadel, A Whole New Disney World Order

A New World Order

At the end of the Cold War, President Bush called for A New World Order.
Because the evil Other needed to sustain nationalistic rhetoric was hard to pin down in the absence of a Soviet enemy, Middle Eastern countries with nuclear ambitions came to stand in for a new American enemy. Aladdin, which was released a year after the end of the Gulf War, represents evil Arab others as well as our nuclear anxiety.

Authors Final Point

Aladdin plays out these problems in a way that asserts the immense destructive potential of a nuclear-armed Muslim Middle East by connecting, in the films mythical Arabia, the dissimulations of the Eastern Other to the dangers of atomic power. At the same time, the film resolves the conflicts in representation by reconfiguring the East, through a pastiche of Western myths and codes, as forms of performance within the spectacle of Western entertainment.
Alan Nadel, A Whole New Disney World Order

End of Lecture 14

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