Reel Bad Arabs is an essential read for anyone concerned about fairness, objectivity and stereotyping. A brilliantly gathered documentation of a little known or appreciated history of how "Hollywood vilifies people," in this case, Arabs and Arab Americans. Jack Shaheen is a great scholar. How anyone would have the patience to review so many films, over such a long period of time, simply escapes me. And he is not terribly ideological or biased himself! What he does is simply point out a consistent pattern, film by film, on how Arabs are depicted in film. The book is long overdue, extremely well documented, and an easy read. The alphabetized entries give a plot summary and then focus on the presentation or role of "the Arab" in the story. Sometimes history is rewritten, facts ignored, and truths disregarded just for the sake of vilification or plot continuity. To counter this in general, the book opens with needed information on who Arabs and Arab-Americans really are and how these facticities differ from their depiction as sheikhs, harem owners, villains, bandits, mummies, and, for the women, maidens in distress.
While not a goal of the author, the book is a history of Hollywood and the development of American political positions on the Middle East. Shaheen identifies Exodus as the most effective movie in shaping American perceptions of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Hardly a balanced film, this Palestinian bashing movie and others that were filmed in Israel and/or produced by Israelis in cooperation with the Israeli government, illustrate how negative Arab mages impact our attitudes about Arab Muslims, Palestinians in particular, regardless of fact. If only Hollywood stopped there, but it didn't. like a runaway train, the defamation continues.
Shaheen's telling observations are supported by evidence: for more than a century, ever since camras started cranking, about one thousand Hollywood movies have dehumanized the Arab people. As the reviews indicate, Arab diversity is ignored, countries are misnamed or simply made up, and the language ill spoken. Shaheen actually includes a list of epithets used to describe or denounce Arab peoples.
Anyone interested in the cinema, injustice, in sociology and political science will find this book enormously useful. I loved it and recommend it without reservation. Let the evidence speak for itself and damn Hollywood!
-Philip Kayal Seton Hall University