Lecture 14:
The New Terrorizing Other
Aladdin (1992)
Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker
Professor Michael Green
Previous Lecture
Hegemonic Race
and Gender
Latinas in Film: A
Historical Overview
Jennifer Lopez:
Latina Star in an Age
of Multiculturalism
This Lecture
Arab representation
in Hollywood: Real
Arabs vs. Reel
Common cinematic
Arab stereotypes
Aladdin and “The
New World Order”
Arab Representation in Hollywood:
Real Arabs vs. Reel Arabs
True Lies (1994)
Directed by James Cameron
Lecture 14: Part I
Pre-Hollywood Stereotypes
Muslim and Arab
stereotypes have
existed since well before
the advent of cinema.
18th and 19th century
European artists and
writers caricatured the
Middle East as full of
desolate deserts,
corrupt palaces and
heathen Arabs.
The Arabian Nights
In particular, the
hugely popular
Arabian Nights stories
allowed fictional
renditions of “wild
foreigners,” exotic
concubines and slave
bazaars to become
“real” depictions - and
an indelible part of
European culture.
Early Film Arab Stereotypes
During the early 20th century, pioneering
filmmakers such as Georges Méliès drew
on existing Arab stereotypes from other
mediums and perpetuated those images in
early cinema.
In such movies as The Palace of Arabian
Nights (1905) Méliès and others created a
mythic Arabia in which Arabs ride camels,
brandish scimitars, hang out in desert
oases and fetishize European women.
The Arab in Hollywood
As it has with every other non-Anglo
people, American cinema has stereotyped,
marginalized, silenced and downright
vilified Arabs since its inception.
Hollywood has improved its representation
of other races and ethnicities over time.
However, Hollywood – and the mainstream
U.S. media in general – continues to vilify
and dehumanize Arabs.
The Cultural “Other”
• For Hollywood, Arabs
have always been the
cultural “other,” seen
as different and
threatening in terms of
race and religion and
depicted as brutal,
heartless, uncivilized
religious fanatics, bent
on terrorizing “civilized”
Familiar Arab Stereotypes
• In countless movies, Arabs are invariably
stereotyped as murderers, rapists, oil-rich
dimwits, abusers of women and jihadists.
• Other common stereotypes include:
– Black beards; headdresses; dark
sunglasses; palm trees; oases; hooked
noses; belly dancers; limousines; harem
maidens; oil wells; camels; automatic
weapons; and cries to Allah.
Pause the lecture and watch the clip from True Lies.
Real Arabs
• Of course, real Arabs are much more
complex and varied than reel Arabs:
– 300 million or so Arabs – as well as Persians
and Kurds – live in 22 nations in the Middle East.
– Because of the history of occupation - including
French, English and Greek - there exists a mixed
ethnicity in the Arab world.
– Geographically, the Arab world is 1 1/2 times as
large as the United States.
– Most Arabs are Muslim, but there are about 15
million Arab Christians as well.
Arab Contribution
• The Arabs have made
many contributions to
civilization, including
algebra and the
concept of zero.
• They have contributed
widely to astronomy,
geography, agriculture,
architecture, law and
secular, scientific and
philosophical thought.
More Contributions
“Arab intellectuals made it feasible for Western
scholars to develop and practice advanced
educational systems . . . In astronomy Arabs
used astrolabes for navigation, star maps,
celestial globes, and the concept of the center
of gravity. In geography, they pioneered the use
of latitude and longitude. They invented the
water clock; their architecture inspired the
Gothic style in Europe. In agriculture, they
introduced oranges, dates, sugar, and cotton,
and pioneered water works and irrigation.”
Jack G. Shaheen, “Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People”
Arab People and Lifestyle
• The vast majority of Arabs are:
• peaceful, not violent terrorists or suicide
• poor, not rich oil sheiks
• Most do not live in desert tents
• None are surrounded by Harem maidens
• Most have never seen an oil well or ridden
a camel
Their lifestyles defy stereotyping!
Not all Muslims are Arabs
• Muslims are America’s fastest growing
religious group; about 500,000 reside in the
greater Los Angeles area.
• America’s six to eight million Muslims
frequent more than 2000 mosques, Islamic
centers and schools.
• Most of the world’s 1.1 billion Muslims are
Indonesian, Indian or Malaysian.
• Only 12% of Muslims are Arabs, a fact
systematically ignored by filmmakers. 15
A Shared Past
• Arabs, like Jews, are Semites – a group of
Semitic-speaking peoples of the Near East
and northern Africa, including the Arabs,
Arameans, Babylonians, Carthaginians,
Ethiopians, Hebrews, and Phoenicians.
• The term describes not only shared
language, but also the extended cultures and
ethnicities, as well as the history of varied
peoples, associated with the region.
Familiar Racism
• It is perhaps not
surprising then that
Hollywood’s image of
hook-nosed, robed,
lecherous Arabs
parallels past similar
representations of Jews
in German and U.S
cinema and media.
“The New Anti-Semitism”
“ . . . the fact remains that it is acceptable to
advance anti-Semitism in film - provided the
Semites are Arabs. I call this habit of racial and
cultural generalization “The New Anti-Semitism”
. . . Not because anti-Semitism against Jews is
dead (it isn’t) . . . [but] because many of the
anti-Semitic films directed against Arabs were
released in the last third of the twentieth
century, at a time when Hollywood was steadily
and increasingly eliminating stereotypical
portraits of other groups.”
Jack G. Shaheen, “Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People”
Cannon Films
• One example of institutionalized antiSemitism is the mid 1980s filmmaking of the
production company Cannon, formed by the
producers Menachem Golan and Yoram
Globus, the Israeli director of the Film
Industry Department.
• The producers teamed up to make 26 “hateand-terminate-the-Arab” movies, including
Hell Squad and The Delta Force (1986) both
of which featured Palestinian villains.
Influenced by Public Figures
• One can make the case that the negative
representation of Arabs and other Muslims is
often at least partially a reflection of the
actions and rhetoric of public officials and
• For example, media speculation that Arab
terrorists had been behind the Oklahoma
City bombing resulted in 300 hate crimes
against Arab Americans, though none were
involved in the crime.
Post 9/11
• Throughout much of the 2000s, public
officials and journalists relentlessly
criticized and vilified Arabs and Muslims.
• Though several Saudi citizens were
responsible for the events of 9/11, the
overwhelming vilification of Arabs by
government and media drowned out any
possible balanced representation of them.
• For example, President Bush linked 9/11 to
Baghdad and, more specifically, stereotypes
of Arabs to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
• This War in Iraq, “The War on Terror” and
other U.S. government activities have been
recycled, fictionalized and reflected in
mainstream entertainment, in movies such
as In the Valley of Elah (2007), The Kingdom
(2007) and Sryiana (2005); and TV shows
such as 24, South Park and Family Guy.
Author’s Final Point
“Subliminally, the onslaught of the reel Arab
conditions how young Arabs and ArabAmericans perceive themselves and others
perceive them . . . Explains Magdoline
Asfahani, an Arab-American college student:
‘The most common questions I was asked
[by classmates] were if I had ever ridden a
camel and if my family lived in tents . . . I
learned at a very young age that every other
movie seemed to feature Arab terrorists.’”
Jack G. Shaheen, “Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People”
Common Cinematic Arab
The Siege (1998)
Directed by Edward Zwick
Lecture 14: Part II
Illuminating Types
• Just as Donald Bogle outlined common
Hollywood stereotypes for African Americans
– mammies, coons, bucks, etc – and
Charles Ramirez Berg outlined common
Hollywood stereotypes for Latinos/as –
bandidos, harlots, Latin lovers, etc –
Shaheen has outlined five common Arab
stereotypes that reoccur and overlap in
Hollywood films: Villains, Sheikhs,
Maidens, Egyptians, and Palestinians.
Critical Disclaimer
• Note about the stereotype categories as
outlined by Shaheen:
• Though his research is useful, Shaheen’s
categories of Arab stereotypes are
somewhat problematic. First, referring to
Arabs as “Villains” is a bit generic, so we will
call them “International Villains.”
• Second, he singles out several groups by
nationality, which can contribute to the
essentializing against them.
(International) Villains
• For more than 100 years, in hundreds of
movies, Hollywood has singled out Arabs as
an American enemy.
• They have been faced off against every
imaginable foe – Americans, Europeans,
Israelis – in comedies and dramas.
• Some examples include A Night in
Casablanca (1946), The Sad Sack (1957),
Never Say Never Again (1983), Ishtar
(1987), Frantic (1988), Executive Decision
(1996) and The Mummy (1999).
Other Villainous Features of Arabs
• In Hollywood films, Arabs often:
– make easy targets in war movies (The Rules of
– try to rape, kill, or abduct Western women
– enslave and abuse Africans (Gladiator).
– invade the United States and terrorize innocents.
(Executive Decision)
– try to acquire nuclear weapons (Back to the
– are seen as tribal “savages” (Lawrence of
Default Cinematic Villain
• Especially in the past few decades, in
the wake of the collapse of the Soviet
Union, the historical distance from Nazis,
and the improved standing of African
Americans and other U.S racial and
ethnic groups, Arabs have become go-to
villains in Hollywood – particularly in
movies that depict threats to U.S.
national security.
Pause the lecture and watch the clip from The Siege
• One particularly egregious recent example of
Arabs as villains can be found in The Rules
of Engagement (2000).
• The movie includes scenes of U.S. soldiers
slaughtering Yemeni women and children,
scenes cheered by some U.S. audiences.
• The movie reinforces damaging stereotypes,
and promotes the dangerous but common
idea that all Arabs are Anti-American.
Pause the lecture and watch the clip from The Rules of Engagement
Islam and Holy War
“ Islam, particularly, comes in for unjust
treatment. Today’s image makers regularly
link the Islamic faith with male supremacy,
holy war and acts of terror, depicting Arab
Muslims as hostile alien intruders, and as
lecherous oily sheikhs intent on using nuclear
weapons. When mosques are displayed
onscreen, the camera inevitably cuts to Arabs
praying, and then gunning down civilians.
Such scenarios are common fare.”
Jack G. Shaheen, “Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People”
Illogical Placement
• Throughout Hollywood history, Arab villains
have even showed up in stories in which
they have no logical purpose.
• They frequently were used in early serials
such as Son of Tarzan (1920), Queen of the
Jungle (1935) and The Vigilante (1947).
• This practice continued, with Arabs showing
up as arbitrary villains in such movies as
Back to the Future (1985).
Pause the lecture and watch the clip from Back to the Future.
• “Sheikh” literally
means wise, elderly
person, the head of a
family. Muslim
leaders are often
addressed as sheikhs.
• Sheikhs have been
stereotyped in
hundreds of movies.
• In early to mid-century films, Sheikhs have
been presented as tribal chiefs and indolent,
perverted rulers who lounge on thrones.
• More recently they have been shown as
rich, corrupt, oily, militant and ostentatious –
wearing Ray Bans and reclining in Rolls
Royces and Mercedes.
• In only a few films, such as Sryiana, Arab
leaders have been shown more threedimensionally and realistically.
• Arab women are eroticized,
humiliated and demonized
in a number of features.
• They often appear as
bosomy belly dancers
leering out from diaphanous
veils, or as scantily-clad
harem maidens with bare
midriffs, closeted in the
palace’s women’s quarters.
Maidens (Continued)
• Other stereotypes include:
– Willingness to submit to their “owners,” as if they
relish their sexual mistreatment and
– Appearing as shapeless Bundles of Black or
Beasts of Burden, a homogeneous sea of
covered women.
– Being labeled as Black magic vamps or
enchantresses ‘possessed of devils.’
– Dark-complexioned Arab femmes fatales who
move to woo the American/British hero, but are
often rebuffed and disappointed.
• Egyptian caricatures appear in more than
100 films, from mummy tales to legends of
pharaohs and queens to contemporary
• They are often depicted as begging children
or devious men after Western women.
• From the start, moviemakers linked Egypt
with the un-dead from Georges Méliès The
Monster (1903) to The Mummy: Tomb of the
Dragon Emperor (2008).
“More than half of the Palestinian movies were
released in the 1980s and 1990s; nineteen
from 1983 -1989; nine from 1990 -1998.
Absent from Hollywood’s Israeli-Palestinian
movies are human dramas revealing
Palestinians as normal folk – computer
specialists, domestic engineers, farmers,
teachers, and artists. Never do movies
present Palestinians as innocent victims and
Israelis as brutal oppressors.”
Jack G. Shaheen, “Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People”
Palestinians (continued)
“No movie shows Israeli soldiers and settlers
uprooting olive orchards, gunning down
Palestinian civilians in Palestinian cities. No
movie shows Palestinian families struggling
to survive under occupation, living in
refugee camps, striving to have their own
country and passports stating Palestine.
Disturbingly, only two scenarios present
Palestinian families.”
Jack G. Shaheen, “Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People”
A Few Exceptions
• Of course, as with the cinematic
representations of all peoples, there are
some positive exceptions – a few films
scattered throughout Hollywood history in
which Arabs and Muslims are portrayed
sympathetically and even heroically.
• Such films include Lion of the Desert (1981),
Hannah K (1983), Robin Hood: Prince of
Thieves (1991), The Seventh Coin (1992)
and Three Kings (1999), among others.
Pause the lecture and watch the clip from Three Kings.
Aladdin and “The New World Order”
Aladdin (1992)
Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker
Lecture 14: Part III
• Aladdin was released in 1992 at the height
of the 1990s Disney animation renaissance
– it followed Beauty and the Beast (1990).
• The movie draws on both Arab folktales –
including One Thousand and One Nights –
as well as traditional Western notions of
Arabs and the Middle East.
• Despite some complaints from Arab groups
that the film was racist, it grossed 217 million
dollars to become the biggest hit of the year.
Aladdin and stereotypes
• The movie features a number of common
Hollywood stereotypes of Arabs and the
Middle East, including:
– Depicting Arabs as greedy, patriarchal savages
and villains and black magic sorcerers.
– Depicting the desert and the region as desolate,
dirty and dangerous.
– Depicting Arab women erotically and exotically.
– Depicting Arabs as duplicitous schemers and
Arab rulers as weak, out of touch and foolish.
Pause the lecture and watch clip #1 from Aladdin.
The Racial Politics of Aladdin
• The movie constructs its characters to reflect
Western racial hierarchies.
• Though the hero and heroine are Arab, their
skin tone is noticeably whiter than the villains
and they speak in the voices of white
American teenagers.
• Meanwhile, the villains are dark – Jafar at
times is black – and they reflect phenotypical
Arab stereotypes such as hooked noses,
black beards and “swarthy” builds.
Pause the lecture and watch clip #2 from Aladdin.
The Real World Politics of Aladdin
• Alan Nadel argues that Aladdin participates
in a series of clichéd narratives informing
popular American assumptions about the
Muslim Middle East, made recognizable
though a form of western romance
(remember the Imperial Imaginary).
• He believes that Aladdin draws heavily on
U.S. representations of Iran and Iraq in
recent decades, as filtered through the lens
of the U.S. State Department and
intelligence community.
Disguise Narratives
• According to Nadal,
the disguise
narrative of Aladdin
– in which characters
constantly appear as
other than they are –
is an allegory for
confused American
feelings towards the
Middle East.
“Shifting Sands”
“[Contemporary foreign policy] illustrates how
vague and protean the Muslim Middle East is to
Americans, even to those Americans in the
intelligence community; with great facility, the
same roles could be played by a secular Arab
state or, equally and interchangeably, by a
fundamentalist non-Arab state. Foreboding,
dark peoples on shifting sands, like characters
out of Aladdin, play out the same story of ‘evil’
in the guise of ‘good’ in the guise of ‘evil’ in the
guise of ‘good,’ ad infinitum.”
Alan Nadel, “A Whole New Disney World Order”
“A New World Order”
• At the end of the Cold War, President Bush
called for “A New World Order.”
• Because the evil “Other” needed to sustain
nationalistic rhetoric was hard to pin down in
the absence of a Soviet enemy, Middle
Eastern countries with nuclear ambitions
came to stand in for a new American enemy.
• Aladdin, which was released a year after the
end of the Gulf War, represents “evil Arab
others” as well as our nuclear anxiety.
Author’s Final Point
“Aladdin plays out these problems in a way
that asserts the immense destructive
potential of a nuclear-armed Muslim Middle
East by connecting, in the film’s mythical
Arabia, the dissimulations of the Eastern
Other to the dangers of atomic power. At the
same time, the film resolves the conflicts in
representation by reconfiguring the East,
through a pastiche of Western myths and
codes, as forms of performance within the
spectacle of Western entertainment.”
Alan Nadel, “A Whole New Disney World Order”
End of Lecture 14
Next Lecture: Multicultural Fu