The Top 10 Most Uncomfortable Depictions of Arabs in Film
Zero Dark Thirty has re-ignited the public terrorised/ terrorist debate in a fresh non-Claire-Danes-cryface way, and while Jessica Chastain delivers an extraordinary performance in the film, it seems a more opportune time to consider 10 of Hollywood's best worst depictions of Arabs, instead of the unstuck CIA babes that hunt them. In fact, while we’re here, let’s look at film’s wider depiction of anyone with a beard or who eats with their hands, shall we?
Muslims, Arabs and more generally People of Middle Eastern Appearance (POMEA) have been called a lot of unsavoury things. From 'sand n**gers' to 'towelheads' or 'ragheads', mostly, they don’t get a great rap. Apparently the Arab American community call it the 'three B syndrome': bombers, belly dancers, or billionaires. Personally I've always considered it more like the three Cs: cab drivers, convenience-store owners or crackpots. All stereotypes have become equally valid.
In the interest of full disclosure, the below list is based on popular films, meaning they’re more influential than something like Syriana, which only attracted people with hipster glasses and/or George Clooney fans. It's not necessarily the definitive representation of the pulp Hollywood delivers, because there is just too much idiocy out there, but consider this your “beware” sign at the gate of stupidity.
10. Back to the Future
I feel like a traitor including this because I love this movie. I mean it's Marty McFly, who is so innocuous and sweet there should be a lolly named after him. And I'm loyal to the franchise - I even watched BTTF III; I went on the BTTF ride at Universal Studios; and the only reason I know the words to Earth Angel is because of the Enchantment Under the Sea prom scene.
But like a mother to a child, you don't always have to like what you love. In this case, BTTF gets a mention because of the whole plutonium plotline, with the insanely stupid Libyan terrorists who got duped by the Doc then proceed to massacre him in a JC Penney parking lot.
That scared the living daylights out of me as a kid and thus loses a star for fearmongering.
9. The Mummy (the cool Brendan Fraser version)
OK, you guys. I’m a closet Brendan Fraser fan. This means I once found myself standing at the red carpet for a premiere of a film I can't remember the name of, but which involved him. I thrust out my notebook, had a few seconds of heart-stopping eye contact, and am convinced he felt a connection too as he scribbled down his autograph for me.
I love him, and I think he's a great actor, even when he's playing opposite jungle animals and basically grunts his way through a movie. So it pains me to think that he did a movie that appears so innocuously fun (cos it kind of does), but which makes Egyptians all seem sneaky, criminal and unclean.
And you can pretty much throw in just about other movie with the word 'mummy' in the title, because they all drink from the same screwy Hollywood kool-aid that eroticises Arabs while simultaneously smudging them with the evil stick.
(I still love you though, Brendan.)