Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Uncovering Injustice in Popular Film

Continuing in the same vein as the post below regarding Said, the short film summarizing the book Reel Bad Arabs challenged me to realize, for the first time, that stereotypes of Arabs, in American culture especially, go unnoticed and un-indicted. I never before stopped to think about the staggering extent to which contemporary media inundates the general public with negative portrayals of Arabs. As mentioned in the film, we are always critical of the ways black people, women, and Jews are represented, so why do Arabs get the cold shoulder?

I can't fully express how totally embarrassed I felt, since I consider myself a sensitive and intlligent person, that I had never noticed how unabashedly racist the Disney version of Aladdin is. Granted, it has been at least five years since I have watched the film, but still, there is no excuse. This brings me to an ancillary idea that I have been considering since viewing the film earlier today. To what extent are our cultural prejudices shaped by the media we encounter as young children? I have always loved the animated films produced by Disney. Can I blame the fact that I watched Aladdin dozens of times as a child for my current obliviousness to the ubiquitous Arabic villain in film today? As an adult, to my credit, when I view Disney films that I haven't seen since childhood, I am usually quick to pick up any problematic imagery and dialogue therein (Pocahontas was a particularly painful viewing...). However, I know that I have watched Father of the Bride II in the last year and never given a second thought to the stereotype advanced by Eugene Levy's character. Perhaps, and this is wishful thinking, because I have grown up without considering racial prejudice as a personal option, what I above referred to as oblivion is actually a form of innocuous carelessness. Regardless, in the future I will view films with a more critical eye, especially when Arab characters are represented.

To conclude, I would like to draw attention to what I felt to be the most unsettling portion of the film -- the archival footage of newcasts directly after the Oklahoma City bombing. I felt physically ill when I heard one of the reporters say of the style of bombing, "It has Middle East written all over it." It is unfortunate that, in the minds of so many, images of terror and destruction are the first to materialize in association with the mention of "Middle East." This film elucidates quite powerfully the ways in which all consumers of mass media are unconsciously encouraged to fear and despise the Arab.

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate your honest and thoughtful reaction to the film.