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How Are Arabs Depicted in Hollywood Films?


Reprinted from a Media Education Foundation press release

“Good documentaries can move you or inform you. Great documentaries can change your entire point of view. Reel Bad Arabs falls into the latter category,” says film critic Faizan Rashid of a new documentary produced by the Media Education Foundation (MEF), a Northampton nonprofit organization that produces and distributes documentary films and other educational resources to inspire critical reflection on the social, political and cultural impact of American mass media.

Jack Shaheen

Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People examines and challenges representations of Arabs in Hollywood films from the early days of cinematic history to the present. The film, which was featured at the 2006 Dubai Film Festival, will have its Northampton premiere on Wednesday, April 25, at 7:30 p.m. in Weinstein Auditorium, Wright Hall. The film screening will be preceded by a reception at 6:30 p.m., and will be followed by a question-and-answer session with author Jack Shaheen, whose best-selling book of the same title is the basis for the film.

“This film is especially important right now,” says MEF Executive Director Sut Jhally, “as war and conflict continue to be a daily reality in the Middle East and fears of terrorism rise in the West. Especially in the precarious time, it’s important that U.S. citizens reflect critically on the consequences of media narratives that tell us that Arabs are predominantly villains and buffoons.”

The film is based on the best-selling book of the same title by Dr. Jack Shaheen (published by Interlink Books, a Northampton-based book publisher specializing in titles on the Middle East). The documentary, like the book, isolates and examines America’s most persistent Arab caricatures, from oversexed Bedouin bandits and submissive maidens to sinister sheikhs and blood-thirsty terrorists, providing striking insights into the origin of these images, their disturbing similarities to anti-Semitic and other racist and ethnocentrist stereotypes, and their resurgence and political resonance during key moments of crisis in U.S. history.

The screening is co-sponsored by the Smith College Middle East Studies Committee, the Smith College Lecture Committee, and the Media Education Foundation.


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