Reel Bad Arabs
Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People is a documentary film directed by Sut Jhally and produced by Media Education Foundation in 2006. This film is an extension of the book of that name by Jack Shaheen which also analyzes how Hollywood corrupts or manipulates the image of Arabs. This documentary argues that the slander of Arabs in American filmmaking has existed since the early days of the silent cinema and is present in the biggest Hollywood blockbusters today. Jack Shaheen analyzes a long series of demeaning images of Arabs through his presentation of various scenes from different American movies which he has studied. This image that is characterized by showing Arabs either as bandits or as a savage, nomadic race, or shows Arab women as shallow belly dancers serving evil, naïve, and greedy Arab sheiks. Most important is the image of the rifle in the hands of Arab "terrorists". The film then explains the motivations behind these stereotypes about Arabs, and their development at key points in American history, as well as why it is so important today.
The film showed for the first time in Washington in 8 June 2007 and then in Los Angeles in the 20 June 2007. The run time of the film is 50 minutes, with Arabic and English subtitles. Soon after, the film was shown successively in more than a dozen of international film festivals between the years 2006 – 2009  The film's estimated budget is $100,000.
Jack Shaheen speaks at the beginning of the documentary about the extent to which Arabs face slander and manipulation in Hollywood, commenting that he has formulated this view of his after having seen hundreds of films produced, in the past and at the present. He also talks about how bleak the views are, those of which are borne by the Western civilization (and he refers to it as – our civilization -) admittedly confessing how these views directly attack the Arabs' humanity. Furthermore, he mentions how this same image took shape in several patterns to feed the same substance that is continuously demonizing the Arabs, thus; the image had to repeat over and over and it was depicted in scenes in several films that heavily abuse the Arabs' behaviors and morals. Later, Jack starts reviewing some of those distorted images about Arabs, and he draws attention to the process of feeding/poisoning the minds of the younger generations with these infected ideas about Arabs that characterizes them with such heinous and harmful descriptions as in the Disney motion picture, Aladdin. Shaheen also pointed the issue of abusing the Arab woman and picturing her with an image that do not for the least bit represent her, which eventually made her gain a very tight position; where she could be dancing in temptation or she could turn in to a terrorist or become suicidal, while the truth is, she is just like all other women in the world; talented, intelligent, and equal in all areas and fields. Shaheen then admits that politics has a big role in affecting Hollywood's image about Arabs, and moreover, both Hollywood and politics feed and empower the other in a way or another.
Jack Shaheen says, "Each of Hollywood and Washington share the same genes." Political and economic events like the crisis of high oil prices in the United States as a result of the Arabs refusal of exporting it to The States, the revolution in Iran, as well as Al-Qaeda activities, the events of 11 September and others, all exported a bad, faded image about Arabs to every American home... It is a truly a very distorted picture. Both the book and the film do reveal the American film scene history, where they exposed a blatant pattern of profiling to stereotype the Arabs and they also showed the similarity of this stereotype with the racist, anti-Semitic caricature and cartoon art throughout history.
Alleging a political agenda, he claims that of 900 films studied, only 50 or so had shown a neutral image of Arabs, whereas positive images of Arabs appear in far fewer films (countable by fingers).
Arabs stereotypes reportedly found in movies:
- The bad Arab character that is always evil and portrayed as a "terrorist" causing explosions, offenses and attacks.
- The shallow/silly Arab character that is always naive, pursuing only fun, lust and extravagance.
- The Bedouin Arab character, that is remotely far from civilization and science, and is often accompanied by "tent" and "camel" images.
- The arrogant Arab character that is very nervous, repressive of women, and the farthest possible from emotions or romance.
Films which reportedly depict these stereotypes include:
- The Black Stallion – 1979
- The Black Stallion Returns – 1984
- Protocol – 1984
- Back to the Future – 1985
- The Delta Force – 1986
- Iron Eagle – 1986
- Ishtar – 1987
- The Taking of Flight 847: The Uli Derickson Story – 1988
- Terror in Beverly Hills – 1988
- The Bonfire of the Vanities – 1990
- Navy SEALs – 1990
- The Human Shield – 1990
- Killing Streets – 1991
- Chain of Command – 1993
- Bloodfist VI: Ground Zero – 1994
- True Lies – 1994
- Armour of God II: Operation Condor – 1991
- Freedom Strike – 1998
- Rules of Engagement – 2000
Films which reportedly depict a positive image include:
- Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves – 1991
- The 13th Warrior – 1999
- Three Kings – 1999
- Kingdom of Heaven – 2005
- Paradise Now – 2005
- Narrator: Jack Shaheen
- Director: Sut Jhally
- Producer: Jeremy Earp
- Post-Production Supervisor: Andrew Killoy
- Editors: Sut Jhally, Andrew Killoy, Mary Patierno
- Additional Editing: Jeremy Smith
- Sound Engineering: Peter Acker, Armadillo Audio Group
- Media Research & Collection: Kenyon King, Bathsheba Ratzkoff
- Subtitling: Jason Young
- Arabic Translation: Huda Yehia, The Translation Center at the University of Massachusetts
- Graphic Designer: Shannon McKenna
- Additional Motion Graphics: Janet Brockelhurst
- Production Assistant: Jason Young
- DVD Authoring: Andrew Killoy, Jeremy Smith
- Additional Footage Provided by: Mary Patierno, The Newsmarket.
1) Film festivals
The film festivals that showed the documentary are:
- Official Selection, 2009 Cinemateket, Norwegian Film Institute
- Official Selection, 2009 Chicago Arabesque
- Official Selection, 2009 Arab Film Festival, Calgary
- Official Selection, 2008 Palestinian Film Festival, Sydney
- Official Selection, 2008 Nazariya Films for PEACE Festival
- Official Selection, 2008 One World Berlin Film Festival
- Official Selection, 2008 Mostra Mundo Arabe de Cinema
- Official Selection, 2008 Festival del integracion de Valencia
- Official Selection, 2008 Our Island, Our World Film Film Festival
- Official Selection, 2008 Adelaide Festival of Arts
- Official Selection, 2007 Arabian Sights Film Festival
- Official Selection, 2007 Arab Film Festival
- Official Selection, 2007 Cinema East Film Festival
- Official Selection, 2007 Date Palm Film Festival
- Official Selection, 2007 Brisbane International Film Festival
- Official Selection, 2007 Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival
- Official Selection, 2007 National Conference for Media Reform
- Official Selection, 2006 Dubai International Film Festival
Reviews and criticism
The film received some good positive criticism in many critical reviews.
1) CAST OF VILLAINS | 23 June 2007 by William Booth (Washington Post)
LOS ANGELES—A full house has turned out at the Directors Guild of America for the L.A. premiere of the new documentary Reel Bad Arabs, which makes the case that Hollywood is obsessed with "the three Bs"—belly dancers, billionaire sheiks and bombers—in a largely unchallenged vilification of Middle Easterners here and abroad. "In every movie they make, every time an Arab utters the word Allah? Something blows up," says Eyad Zahra, a young filmmaker who organized the screening this week with the support of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
2) DESPOT, OIL SHEIKH, TERRORIST | 22–28 March 2007 by Samer Elatrash (Montreal Mirror)
In a scene from the 1994 blockbuster True Lies, Arnold Schwarzenegger executes a squawking Palestinian terrorist by tying him to a missile and firing it at a helicopter crammed with more Palestinians. In The Delta Force, Chuck Norris wallops Palestinian terrorists aboard an airliner. In the 2000 movie Rules of Engagement, a colonel played by Samuel Jackson orders his troops to fire on Yemeni demonstrators. Dozens are killed. A young girl loses her leg. It’s a day that will live in… But no! At the end of the movie, it emerges that all the demonstrators, even the young girl, had fired at the Americans!
3) REEL BAD ARABS REVIEW | March 2007 by Omar Attum (Egypt Today)
Arabs are the most maligned group in the history of Hollywood — so says Jack Shaheen, noted media critic, author and host of the new documentary film produced by the Media Education Foundation, Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People. In Shaheen’s eyes, it is a given that Arabs will be showcased negatively in Hollywood. Of the more than 1,000 movies Shaheen watched that portrayed Arabs, he found that only a dismal six to seven percent could be considered positive or non-offensive towards Arabs.
4) BID TO UNRAVEL 'BAD ARAB' CLICHE | 17 December 2006 by Motez Bishara (Al Jazeera)
The 3rd Dubai International Film Festival took a giant leap towards combating racial stereotyping in the film industry when it hosted 'Operation Cultural Bridge', a panel discussion late last week. Moderator Riz Khan [Al Jazeera English] opened the debate with a question to director Oliver Stone whether Middle Eastern characters have been unfairly characterised by the film industry. Khan was referencing a documentary film in the festival called Reel Bad Arabs which chronicled 40 years of Arab demonisation on screen.
To read the full articles in the official websites of the film, click here .
- Charles Glass, "A prejudice as American as apple pie," New Statesman, November 20, 1998.