Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies A People

Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies A People

2006, Media  -   56 Comments
Ratings: 7.91/10 from 82 users.

Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies A PeopleThe Arab is a one-dimensional caricature, a cartoon cutout used by film makers as stock villains and as comic relief. And so, over and over, we see Arabs in movies portrayed as buffoons, their only purpose being to deliver cheap laughs. This groundbreaking documentary dissects a slanderous aspect of cinematic history that has run virtually unchallenged from the earliest days of silent film to today's biggest Hollywood blockbusters. Featuring acclaimed author Dr. Jack Shaheen, the film explores a long line of degrading images of Arabs--from Bedouin bandits and submissive maidens to sinister sheikhs and gun-wielding "terrorists"--along the way offering devastating insights into the origin of these stereotypic images, their development at key points in US history, and why they matter so much today.

Shaheen shows how the persistence of these images over time has served to naturalize prejudicial attitudes toward Arabs and Arab culture, in the process reinforcing a narrow view of individual Arabs and the effects of specific US domestic and international policies on their lives. By inspiring critical thinking about the social, political, and basic human consequences of leaving these Hollywood caricatures unexamined, the film challenges viewers to recognize the urgent need for counter-narratives that do justice to the diversity and humanity of Arab people and the reality and richness of Arab history and culture.

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56 Comments / User Reviews

  1. World Peace

    This is by far the best and most informative documentary that I have ever had the pleasure of watching. I am Arab AND Christian. Believe it or not. I think ALL Arabs and other people of Middle Eastern descent should be portrayed more fairly. Thank you.

  2. Definitivity

    I'm American, I love my Arab brothers and sisters. What my country is doing is unfair. Even more unfair is Israel bullying Palestine. Salaam

  3. Hanna

    Jack Shaheen did a brilliant job, long live Palestine.

  4. MOHS MA

    The more they make joke of us, the more I hate America

  5. Delicate Doll

    good job!

  6. Abdulrahman Al-kindi

    Islam doesn't promos you with a virgin if you kill your self its actually foreboding it. i don't like what thy do but the have the right to do it its there country and thy should defined it

  7. Abdulrahman Al-kindi

    what do you consider the gangs you have in america? aren't thy terrorist?
    killing, stilling,etc..
    what those Arabs that you consider all of them as terrorist its a simple reaction to what the us government do to there country thy defined it . you cant destroy a hole country based on what you think thy have Iraq is one of them mass distraction as thy said but did thy find any NO

  8. DReadrush

    Well worth watching. A timely (rather, late) doco, well done and calmly presented, highlighting historic and ongoing selective vilification of Middle-Eastern people. Sickly laughable at times, at the grossly distorted portrayal by Hollywood/US media. So many films, for example, painting a false view of Palestinians, who do not (despite so many depictions) attack Americans, and who surely, when considered in a balanced way, remain the greater victims in the Israel-Palestine tragedy (considered in terms of the balance of lives lost, land lost, civil/human rights lost, and basic quality of life lost). For example, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights and the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs report 1084 Israeli deaths from 2000 through 2010 vs. 6445 Palestinians in Israeli retaliation (Balanced? Albeit a rather sorry process to tally deaths on sides - a single death is a tragedy). Yet the West continues its false portrayals of them and others, making it so much easier for a generation to accept illegal military action and geopolitical scapegoating on a grand scale. The support of torture and abuse of Abu Ghraib prisoners as nothing more than ‘letting off steam’ by fascistic Limbaugh was unconscionable, yet a sorry display of the sadly conservative view in the US and elsewhere. There is evil on all sides, with the majority of all peoples seeking peace and a more harmonious life. This ongoing distortion and propaganda does nothing but inflame and lead us away from such possibility.

  9. Guest

    Saw this, Definately a must watch. Very interesting. So much research and effort has been put in to it.

  10. Rachel Muntz

    I'm actually horrified by the number of comments stating that Arabs do a "good job" of villifying themselves without Hollywood's help. Did you learn NOTHING from this video? Good lord, find some sense.

  11. ThePhilhw

    He's dead right and he's right to be offended by it and to point it out.
    We are, have been and, no doubt, will continue to be manipulated.
    Wake up people, we are all humans but the needless propaganda, hate and hidden agendas are all around.

  12. kolya11

    successive muslim terrorist attacks on Russia is no Holywood production.

  13. kolya11

    Arabs bring this villification upon themselves. 9/11 was not a Hollywood production!!!!

    1. thea leblanc

      yes it was!!

    2. Rachel Muntz

      You're saying the actions of a few are basis enough for the villification of millions of people? Okay, idiot.

    3. laith911

      what about the films that Hollywood produced before 9/11 and they used make fake and false stuffs about Arabs and trying to fake the world with those movies. even they faken the histories on those movies lool.Hollywood want to make history from there mind loool what a shame (Hollywood trying to Distorts the real history and write the history from there mind) . Hollywood is trying to fake the truth and the us government to.

    4. Maya

      You're absolutely right, 9/11 was no Hollywood was White House/CIA production.

  14. steamknife

    I remember seeing a movie in the 90s that is claimed to be based on true life event when I was a teen. The movie portrays Muslim-Arabs to be violent, deceptive and even their women carries an AK47. The Americans are the good guys, victim, hero etc.. After seeing that film, I hated Muslims so much that I literally feel offended. Now, I feel f&*king stupid.

    EDIT: While I progress through this video, I saw the film that I watched when I was a teenager. It's Rules of Engagement!!

  15. Ahmad Magdy

    SUPER. Great research, great study and good commentary. Everybody need desperately to see this documentary.

  16. Juan Carlos Morano

    Americans seriously need to change

    1. jason Curodeau

      I agree, however we each need to learn. It is very easy to study not only the Muslim faith but the cultural and political aspects of the Islamic world community. My rule of thumb lately has been to take every negative media portrayal of any group, country, or culture and test it against U.S. domestic and foriegn policy historically and in the present. I don't think there is a singlr person on the planet above the age of 7 who has not had some form of negative misinformation spread about them. We should all learn from those experiences and not perpetuate false witness against thy neighbors how ever far away they may live.

  17. Leofwin

    How does the Arab film industry portray Americans?

  18. Leofwin

    Arabs vilify themselves, they don't need Hollywood to do it.

    1. Sheema Baghabra

      oooh someone watches too much tv lol

    2. Leofwin

      I don't own a television, I hate television.

    3. Ben-Gali

      but you're watching it and commenting on it online, so STFU you hoity toity douche.

    4. Peter Speight

      wow, don't question anything you see in film or the news, do we!

  19. Tessa Bell

    Excellent, excellent documentary. Something everyone needs to hear, and since most people need someone to tell them how to live, I'm glad this movie was made.

  20. Cindab

    Ascripting identities is what Americans do. We want peoples to act the way we expect them to and then there is nothing to fear. Bacause we think we know what to expect. We need to begin to have sympathy and empathy for all peoples and not just the ones that demand respect we need to give it more freely.

  21. Tracy Phillips

    The media seems to be adept as detecting cultural/societal beliefs and stereotypes, seizing upon them & foisting them back upon us as grotesque exaggerations. Even the portrayal of the idealized blonde white woman has morphed into a troubling distortion. She is confused, flaky, in need of male direction (watch a few household cleaning products ads!) She means yes when she says no (rarely; because she's typically shown grinning up at some much less attractive idiot guy & nodding like a bobble-head on a dashboard). In the horror genre, her young college-aged beauty & confidence fall victim to the eroticized violence of some male psycho. Want to attract such a woman? All you need is the right brand of BEER & she'll be all over you. RIIIGGGHHHTTTT!

    Arabs are just one of many media scapegoats. The Irish have been shown as loud, vulgar, violent drunken morons, Italians in film all seem to be Mafia thugs, Black women are either long-suffering types or hyper-sexualized bad girls, Black guys-well...there are too many stereotypes there to even list. Asian guys somehow all are Kung Fu masters (or nerds) & Asian women are the submissive love-interests of white (Anglo-Saxon) male heroes or dragon-lady types.

    This will only change when we as a society, refuse to pay for it & condone it. See a sexist/racist ad? Bombard the company with letters & petitions. REFUSE to buy the product. Don't go to the movie & refuse to buy your kids all the cheap plastic merchandise. Also, we must also monitor our own belief systems lest we find ourselves guilty of the same narrow-minded & ignorant stereotyping we claim to deplore.

    1. kolitironsi

      You hit the spot tracy, its all about manipulating people and giving them a false identity( like the dangerous black male etc). The problem its not just the media ...its the hole system.

  22. Shah Gee

    Very Good Documentary

  23. wq

    This is a good documentary! I'm glad it's been made because a lot of people never notice the unfair portrayal of arabs because we're so used to it. I never thought Aladdin was racist until I'm old enough to understand it. Aladdin was my favorite movie as a child. Now I feel weird about loving the movie so much.....chances are, when I have children, I will let them watch aladdin. However I'll make a point to teach them to spot the stereotype/propaganda.

  24. wq

    I'm not disputing the premise of this documentary. I'm merely here to state that hollywood villifies pretty much everyone who isn't white, beautiful, and the sort who can play the protagonist.

    if you're and asian male, you're nerdy, good at math, asexual, unpopular, low EQ, undesireable, and can't speak english (even if the actor himself speaks english. I remember getting surprised once when an asian-american actor spoke perfect english because his character on the show didn't).

    If you're an asian female, you're docile, servile, hyperfeminine, sexual, and ripe for the plucking for the male protagonist (typically played by a white actor). Oh, and often times a reporter (this is true even in video games where the only asian character is a reporter. I'm speaking of Mass Effect)

    If you're italian, you're mafia.

    if you're indian, you're a clerk at 7 eleven.

    if you're a white female, you must be beautiful (regular-looking people simply aren't wanted in hollywood. since when did you see a female scientist/doctor played by anyone who wasn't young and attractive? You'd think brains and average looks were mutually exclusive qualities).

    Hollywood loves portraying everything. To this day I don't understand how we're supposed to believe chubby middle-aged white guys always marry gorgeous thin women (look at all the family sitcom shows).

    I always roll my eyes when TV/movies show these ridiculous stereotypes. I believe that if we don't like it, we have to hit them where it hurts (the pocketbook). I personally did not pay to watch The last Airbender due to the whitewashing of the characters.

  25. Jen

    And I definitley agree with Panth!! Excellent point :)

  26. Jen

    To Sheila and Valkriechronicals,
    Do you realize how stupid and immature you sound by arguing whether they are arab or not? IT DOESN'T MATTER. And how ironic is it that you're doing it by commenting on a video that is vaguley about the worlds differences. Well what the hell are you doing now? Nice one kids. Try to focus more not on what is different, but rather what unites us. Maybe then you'll see a change.

  27. ?

    theres a hell of a lot of this going on in the media
    not to mention slurs against asian people , overwieght people--especially woman ---sexism is completely rampant in the media--case and point you will almost never see an average looking woman in a movie you will however see plenty of average looking men --and if u do happen to see a slightly underattractive woman in a film she will of course be the blunt of a joke

  28. Panth

    I totally agree with Dr. Jack Shaheen.
    Its disgusting.
    Thats what happend in Germany in 1940.
    The Jews know how it works, and learned nothing.
    Yes, one thing: how to become Nazi's themselves.

  29. Valkriechronicals

    To "Jason"...

    Iranians or Persians, are a different people than Arab.

    Wikipedia does not specify that Iranians are Arabs, but rather states that 2 million people in the Iranian population are of Arabic descent.Their nationality is still Iranian. Just like how a Brazilian emigrates/or is born in The U.S, that person is of Brazilian decent, but he is AMERICAN. Only a very small percentage of Arabs make up of the Iranian Population (obviously in Iran). That doesn't mean that Iranians Are Arabs. The man in this documentary is reasonable, but is not clear when he mentions the Iranian Revolution, and he often times refers to Iran as a part of the "Arab" World. That's ridiculous. That's like saying Mexico is The U.S.A's 51st state and Canada is its 52nd state. Iranians are Aryans, Arabs are not. Its a fact, go look it up.

  30. sinbad

    I am from the heart of Arabia (Saudi Arabian),and i can tolerate all of the stereotyping that has been shown in this docu ,but the men of religion (the so called priests) to make us the prophecies of their judgment days as being terror nation that just dehumanizing ,in Islam it prophesies that the judgment day will be a day that Muslims & Christians will fight side to side toward a common enemy it could be the Illuminati.
    shame on those priests when religion should brings humankind 2gether not far from each other .

  31. Allan

    One of the really great doc. all the best for you

  32. sheila


    i am iranian, and i am NOT an arab. Iranians and arabs are completely different people. if you're ignorant enough to go look on WIKIPEDIA for information, thats your perorgative, but dont give wrong information to others. Iranians and Arabs are different in tradition, customs, language, etc. our alphabet/writing has some similarities, however we as people are completely different, and don't like each other much. What you say about "iranians are arabs" is as bad as saying "chinese are japanese".... get your research straight.

  33. Ryan

    Asians, Arabs, Blacks and Hispanics are not portrayed right in Hollywood, always usurped by the exceptional white man, who is always the hero and ALWAYS liberates the coloured woman from the barabarity of the coloured man.

    It's sad how even today, this is still here and even today, Hollywood elite refuses to change because they feel this is what people want. And how can you blame them? This IS what the people want.

    But at the same time, let's not make the world so PC. We gotta poke fun at races, ethnicities and cultures sometimes, for fun's sake :)

  34. Vasya Petrov

    Unfortunately Arabs do great jobs of making themselves look bad, without any help from Hollywood.

  35. farzad

    there are 2 million arabs in iran, but we are 70 million,by the way, we can not say americans are hispanic just because there are too many hispanics in the US, SO SIMPLE!

  36. Ron

    Wow. Very good documentary, thanks for this.

    Things aren't always whet they seem. A year ago or so I attended an information session put on as part of Israeli Apartheid Week at one of the universities in town. I wanted to see for myself what all it was all about. The organizers and speakers at this session were all Jewish. Not quite what I had expected.

    Humility is a great teacher.

  37. John

    2 s.pille Hay Dumbie, ever hhurd ov spell check ?*!+

  38. s.pille

    And the main part about "american dreem" After this all we have to be scared of musilim?

    That is the project!

    Becouse them plan is america haritage for musilim?


    So no boddy know what they does to RED INDIEN'S.

    Now every boddy talk about american and musilim but We are "RED INDEAN'S" please don't try to cut our haritage to biveen WE are and MUSILIM creating a WAR.

    "SORRY FOR MY ENGLISH" speling's wrong?

  39. Bilal

    Hollywood was and still just another war mechanisim, aimed at (besides making money) serving selective targets.
    portraining arabs as primitive sub-humans, justifies the exterminations of palestinains.
    this is what they learnet from the master, make them evil enough so the world won't feel sorry for what you do to them.
    Anti-semitsim only applies for the jews, stuff the rest.

  40. Stevie wheels

    im all good with them portraying arabs like that, as long as tehy start portraying americans as lazy slobs who love to eat nasty food and drive huge cars instead of the thin lovely middle aged people with full heads of colored hair and great work ethics

  41. Gromath

    what else is new? for Hollywood Germans are nazis; Russians, communists; Mexicans spagetthi western bandits, Chinese and Japanese are the same and both are martial artists, Italians are wiseguys, guidos or mobsters...and so on! It's american's choice to believe or not in these stupid stereotypes

  42. jason

    A lot of Iranians are considered Arabs....700,000 or even up to 2 million according the wikipedia page. The term is applied loosely, so saying "Iranians are Arabs" is as incorrect as saying they are not....

  43. exnem

    Very interesting docu, but someone should tell this guy that iranians are NOT arabs.

  44. mutha

    it confirms my suspicions....propaganda, used by Hitler is still used today... Arabs , or immigrants the neo-threat...the neo-jews of the 21 century.
    Actually anyone they pick for their purposes, providing
    distractions from the robbery that goes on now.
    Too bad people are such morons and do not figure this out

    Martin Luther King said this:
    The Pharaoh had a favorite method of keeping his slaves. He would ensure they kept fighting each other!
    Only when the slaves started talking to each other, did that begin to end slavery!

  45. Vlatko

    Thanks taoucima. I'll try do dig something out for you.

  46. taoucima

    i am really happy to come across such an interesting website. what i would like to is that i am seeking information concerning my topic which in about those stereotypes that are ingrained in hollywood movies against arabs. please i wish you may help me by providing me with information or sites that can check to have as much possible of information concerning my topic. Don't hesitate to send me pleaaaaase. Thank you