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Hollywood's Hegemony: The Political Discourse of Exceptionalism

Wesam Abo Marq Wesam Abo Marq
2nd March 2022
Hollywood's Hegemony: The Political Discourse of Exceptionalism
Stereotypical images and racist remarks have been used in many films (Getty).

Note: The views and opinions expressed in blog/editorial posts are those of the author. They do not reflect the views or opinions of Misbar.

With the growing global exposure to media, many individuals are surrounded by images that help form their perceptions of various groups of people. The ways in which facts are presented shape our impressions of others and have a detrimental impact on our perceptions and opinions. The United States' film industry, also known as Hollywood, uses various film genres to promote American hegemonic policies, such as war movies. Hollywood's approach of representing Islam as an intrusive religion plays an important role in the advancement of the Islamophobic discourse. According to Karim H. Karim, the representation of Muslims changed after the September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers. Muslims became represented as the "other" juxtaposed with the American Collective "self".

Many Hollywood movies have incorporated stereotypical images and racist remarks. It is rarely dramatic enough to draw attention but more often embedded in the form of tacit representations and statements. These misleading images may go unnoticed by the common audience. Whereas those who often analyze movies and pay attention to minute details will notice them.

Edward Said's “Orientalism” sheds light on the “other”: Arabs who are depicted as savages as well as uncivilized and primitive people. Said adds that the West perceives Middle Eastern countries as desert-like swathes of land with camels used as a primary mode of transportation--an image already reinforced by Hollywood even until today. According to Gill Branston and Roy Stafford, “The term [representation] has the capacity to suggest that some media re-present situations. This can make them seem 'natural' or familiar—and thereby marginalizing or even excluding other images, making those unfamiliar or even threatening.” Arabs, Muslims, Middle Eastern, and North African (MENA) communities have been portrayed as America's “enemy” in Hollywood.

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Jack Shaheen investigates over 1000 movies from the earliest Hollywood productions and discovers a Persistent and consistent pattern of stereotypes of “the hateful Arabs” represented in these movies. He claims that Muslim Arabs have been portrayed as the most notorious group in film history, with unfavorable stereotypes that exceed negative images of Blacks, Native Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and Jews.

These are only a few examples of movies based on the central concept of Islamophobia. For instance, “Cleanskin” deals with the assassinations and chain bombings carried out in London by a brutal Islamic gang with anti-imperialist and anti-West views. The Siege,” which was released following the Oklahoma City bombing, depicts the story of the terrorist explosions in New York City. Similarly, in “Taken,” Muslim smugglers kidnap the daughter of a CIA security officer. Muslims are represented as criminals, corrupt thugs, and public enemies in this movie.

Of course, all of the aforementioned facts do not mean that Arabs/Muslims should play the victim. Quite the contrary, Arabs and Muslims have to start writing their own stories from their point of view as an act of resistance to these misleading and barbaric images against them.  

Misbar's Sources:

Journal of Media Studies
“The Media Student's Book”
“Muslims and the News Media”
“Reel bad Arabs: How Hollywood vilifies a people”