I am amazed as I read this. How much have I missed. Movie after movie, that I've seen, long before I became culturally aware of Arabs and anti-Semitism and the beauty of that culture and the awfulness of racism. And I did not know. But Shaheen lays it out too clearly to contradict, in an introduction that lays out the philosophical base for his arguments, and then in copious notes on 900 different movies. And suddenly I realize that the Black Stallion, a movie I loved as a kid, stigmatizes Arabs. Suddenly I realize those Porky Pig cartoons where he's a legionnaire are anti-Semitic. Suddenly I realize that Back to the Future really engages in the classic stereotypes of the evil, bad, terrorist Arab. And I mourn.
As Shaheen makes it clear, it is not that he is arguing that Arabs should never be portrayed as the bad guys. It is only that, when we see them in the movies, they almost always are. And when they're not, we see only a stereotype, of a greedy, lust-driven Arab surrounded by a harem, which has nothing to do with real harems but everything to do with American preoccupation with sex, and perhaps reveals more of who we in the West are than who the Arabs are.
This isn't the kind of book you read cover to cover- it's a resource book, and extremely extensive in the information and racism in each movie presented. It's ideal for picking up right before you watch a video, or right after, to contemplate another perspective than that of the movie, and to discuss. But there are some times I think when Shaheen misses. He lambastes farces, like Ishtar, which are true to the nature of a farce, and poke fun at Arabs and song-writers and the CIA and camels and the West- everyone in the movie. At other times I think he misses the point of a movie made in American culture, like The Siege. While Arabs are the terrorists in The Siege, it is quite clear that Bruce Willis, the military leader, is the true bad guy, and the greatest tragedy in The Siege is when Americans decide to remove freedom in place of security, as Benjamin Franklin said, "Any society which gives up it's freedom for the sake of security, deserves neither." The movie is writ on the backbone of our collective shame for what we did to the Japanese in World War II; and written on the collective forgetfulness we have as we now do the same thing to Arabs.
But small points, on a few movies. Overall, it is impossible to come away from this book with the thought that Hollywood is at all equitable in it's treatment of groups, especially Semites. It is impossible to view movies the same way again. I wait with dread the next great production of Hollywood, where out of nowhere, Arabs will again appear as the caricatured, ignoramus villains- perhaps the bad guys in Ironman, perhaps responsible for all of Indiana's troubles in the next Jones installment. I am left with sadness, and a question I do not have an answer to: Which is worse- that there are 900 movies portraying Arabs, and 50 portraying them positively; or that the majority of movies I have seen in my life are on Shaheen's list?