I was swerving into the parking lot when I heard the radio broadcaster talk about the image of Arabs in the American cinema. I kept listening until it confirmed my suspicion–that it would eventually lead to Jack Shaheen, the scholar of media studies who visited our campus a few weeks ago to give a lecture on the image of Arabs in the American cinema and whom I wrote about on this blog. It turned out that what the broadcaster said was an introduction to an interview with Jack Shaheen, and the interview itself was recorded during Shaheen’s stay in Fayetteville. So I decided to spend some 20 minutes inside my car, in the parking lot, looking at the beads of water race down my windshield, listening to the interview until Jack Shaheen said good bye to the interviewer.
One thing that really attracted my attention from this interview is Jack Shaheen’s finding from his visit to Beirut: that some people in the Arab world don’t really feel bothered by the vilification of the Arab that Shaheen finds in more than 1,200 Hollywood movies he included in his research for his books Reel Bad Arabs and TV Arab. Those people he talked with in Beirut only said, “It’s just a movie.” This is contrary to what Shaheen himself believes what this vilification can potentially lead to, such as, being used by certain people–with certain agendas–to raise hatred against the United States.
Another important thing he says in this interview is that the 100+ years of negative portrayals of the Arabs have made many young Arab movie makers feel bothered and come up with their own portrayals of the Arabs that are far from the stereotypical ones. There are movie makers who grew up in the 80s and 90s who are now making good, mostly independent, movies that either include or consist mainly of Arab-American characters living their American lives with their own problems. Among the films Shaheen mentions in this interview are Amreeka and The Visitor.