It is no question that the media has an enormous effect on all its viewers. The media has an agenda and expects the audience to respond positively to it. It chooses what and what not to broadcast to people. It is disconcerting the level of influence they exert but taking in this information happens on such a level that sometimes we don’t even notice it.
I would like to focus my attention on what could perhaps be part of the media and that is how Arabs are portrayed in Hollywood movies and TV series. Over the years, there have been many movies and TV shows that have depicted a terrorist as an Arab, reciting Islamic chants before he goes off to blow a building or a similar setting. These actors speak in Arabic so the audience are conditioned to believe almost automatically that they are associated with an evil plot. Furthermore, an Arab is constantly associated with living in the desert in tents riding in his camels or at the extreme end, ridiculously rich and corrupt in power.
One-dimensional Muslim terrorist characters were the generic “bad guy” in countless movies and television shows, including True Lies (’94) and Executive Decision (’96). Even the cartoon Aladdin (’92) portrayed villains with Middle Eastern accents while the hero and heroine had standard American voices. The best example of a tv series I can think of is ’24′ . The problem with the depiction of Arabs as terrorists in ’24′ lies in their one-dimensional nature. They are essentially dehumanized, which in turns makes the torture inflicted upon them by Jack Bauer more palatable than if they were seen as persons. It makes it all the more easier for the audience to despise them and automatically associate them with acts of terror.
A more recent movie ‘Up in the Air’ , Clooney’s character and his business partner are deciding what line to wait in at an airport security checkpoint. While pointing to a line of Arab men, Clooney says, “Five words: Randomly Selected for Additional Screening.” Clooney and his colleague avoid the line.
These are just a FEW examples of the countless movies where we see stereotypes against Arabs take precedence to what should be an enjoyable experience to all viewers without conjuring up negative emotions and encouraging all kinds of prejudice.
My question is how accurate do you think these portrayals are? When you imagine an Arab is this the kind of thing that instantly comes to mind? Do you personally believe that certain movies are vilifying Arabs and encouraging false stereotypes and misconceptions about the whole Arab nation? Does this encourage you to do your own research and dig deeper beyond those stereotypes?
If you do have the time, this is a documentary which is part of a book entitled ‘Reel Bad Arabs’ where Jack Shaheen surveyed more than 900 film appearances of Arab characters. Here, he discusses how Arabs are being depicted in a wide range of movies.