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April 13 , 2008

Guilty: Hollywood's Verdict on Arabs After 9/11


"Nothing will be the same again." Americans scarred by the experience of 9/11 often express this sentiment. But what remains the same, argues Jack G. Shaheen, is Hollywood's stereotyping of Arabs. Before 9/11, Shaheen dissected Hollywood's equation of Islam and Arabs with violence in Reel Bad Arabs, his comprehensive study of over a thousand movies. Arabs and Muslims, he showed, were used as shorthand for the "Enemy" and the "Other." In his new book about films made after 9/11, Shaheen finds the same malevolent stereotypes at play. Nearly all of Hollywood's post-9/11 films legitimize a view of Arabs as stereotyped villains-sheikhs, Palestinians, or terrorists. And this happens in every type of film imaginable: one out of four of the movies profiled here have absolutely nothing to do with the Middle East, yet producers toss in weird, shady, unscrupulous Arabs.
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Along with an examination of a hundred recent movies, Shaheen addresses the cultural issues at play since 9/11: the government's public relations campaigns to win "hearts and minds" and the impact of 9/11 on citizens and on the imagination. He suggests that winning the "war on terror" would take shattering the century-old stereotypes of Arabs. He calls for speaking out, for more Arab Americans in the film industry, for fresh films, and for a serious effort on the part of our government to tackle this problem.
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