Sima Bu Jawdeh
Picture this: The theatre lights are dimmed. The pesky trailers of unpromising movies have finally finished and you are ready to be entertained. The movie opens with the soft blaze of sunrise gently illuminating the city skyline. Coming into focus are entangled electricity wires draped around clusters of old buildings and at the far corner of the screen, a mosque stands reflecting the warm colors of dawn. All seems at peace. Suddenly, an explosion! The mirage of serenity is broken and you wonder if you’ll be hearing “Allaho Akbar” anytime now. You sigh. Here is another Hollywood film vilifying the Arabs.
The release of the trailer, “Beirut” on Jan. 11 ignited Lebanese backlash. The film, scheduled to be released in April, is directed by Brad Anderson and stars John Hamm and Rosamund Pike.
After a long leave from Beirut, Hamm returns and is tasked with negotiating the return of a kidnapped CIA agent from the “Militia of Islamic Liberation.” Since the trailer’s release, Lebanese citizens have taken a strong stand against it and have created hashtags to boycott the movie. A petition was created to pressure the government into banning its release.
However, with “Beirut” adding on to the pile of Hollywood movies portraying Arabs in a negative light—the question remains: When will the abrasive Arab images finally stop spiraling downwards?
Jack Shaheen, author of multiple books concerning the image of Arabs, underwent an extensive film investigation and realized that over 900 movies have been made portraying Arabs in a degrading and dehumanizing way.
Whether it is with brown-colored kids carrying guns or men in turbans driving in sleek limousines around oil wells, little is revealed of the Arabs pertaining to their rich history in science, literature, and innovation. Shockingly, if Arab women do not just lay around beneath a Sheikh’s feet, they are shown as extras or as blurs in the sidelines.
“Beirut” is not only placed with other Hollywood movies concerning the Orient because it discriminates against Arabs and does not reveal ‘the beauty of Lebanon,’ but because it marginalizes the Lebanese civil war: a war whose scars are still embedded in older generations.
This is not to say that the civil war should not be addressed, but Hollywood should think again in displaying such events without extensive research and without adding Lebanese actors to portray Lebanese characters, cutting out the stereotypical Oriental music, and striving to film the picture in the city it boasts as its title.
So what is the next move? Some of the factors affecting the persistence of Arab portrayal are the political agendas to exacerbate hate, economic profitability, and lack of pressurization. But most importantly: it is the silence. Arabs are not the first to be marginalized, but Arabs are most definitely the ones being most impassive.
It is reassuring that known Lebanese bloggers—like Elie Fares (A Separate State of Mind) and BlogBaladi, among many others—have addressed such issues after the release of “Beirut,” as well as the general population demanding its ban.
But unfortunately, these actions must reach a larger scale. Until we decide to oppose Hollywood’s monopolizing and degrading view of Arabs, our hospitality will be replaced with brutality, and our Baklawa disguised as guns. Slowly, our rich heritage will be molded into a completely different and destructive image, finally succumbing to Hollywood’s menacing Orient.