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Film Depictions of Arabs

Edward Said and others write about the issue of Orientalism, the way the East is represented and viewed by the West. The term "Orient" signifies a system of representations framed by political forces that brought the Orient into Western learning and Western consciousness, and the Orient can be seen as a mirror image of what is inferior and alien ("Other") to the West. Orientalism is the image of the "Orient" expressed as an entire system of thought and scholarship and as seen in popular media during any given era. The way Orientalism is currently treated in the media suggests a number of villainous stereotypes and prevailing attitudes in the West regarding Arabs and others. The old idea of the Yellow Peril was used when Asians were seen as prime villains, while more recently it is the Arab that has become the target of choice.

Hollywood deals to a great extent with stereotypes in order to convey aspects of character in an immediate way in order to draw the viewer into a film and advance the plot quickly. Because of this tendency, certain social attitudes regarding race and ethnicity are perpetuated from generation to generation. The treatment of Arabs and Muslims in American films is a case in point, and from the beginning of the American film industry, the Arab has served as both an exotic character and a villain. The use of the Arab as a villain seems to have increased in recent years in a way that shows that Americans have an antipathy to Muslims, fueled, no doubt, by certain events on the international scene, but serving to demonize an entire people so that the moment an Arab shows up on screen, the audience assumes that he or she is a terrorist intent on destroying the West.

The picture of the Arab world offered in American films is distorted, selective, and fanciful. In earlier times it was influenced greatly by the Arabian Nights, a fantasy time that was extended by filmmakers far past the time period when it h...

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Film Depictions of Arabs. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 21:04, July 15, 2019, from