Author challenges Hollywood stereotypes of Arabs, Muslims

George Clooney asked him to work as a consultant on two films, including “Syriana,” and national news programs and networks such as “The Today Show,” “Nightline” and CNN have featured the author on a regular basis. But retired communications professor Jack Shaheen says it’s a lonely job taking Hollywood to task for the ethnic stereotypes it portrays.

His latest book, “Guilty: Hollywood’s Verdict on Arabs after 9/11,” examines Arab and Muslim images in more than 100 post-9/11 movies, and challenges industry heavyweights to shatter the villainous stereotypes that the cinema presents to both the American and international public.

“I remember going to the library looking for literature and there was nothing on Arab images in American popular culture. Zilch,” he says. “But there were books on images of Jews, women, blacks, Hispanics and Asians, and I just gobbled those up. I studied them all to learn from their strengths and weaknesses. The exposure to that literature and history helped me not only look at images of the past from a different perspective, but it made me look for commonalities in demonization.”

Through his research, Shaheen found the same formula was repeatedly being used by Hollywood and TV to denigrate minorities.

“In order for a stereotype to be successful, they can’t be like us. They can’t have children. They can’t be devout. They can’t value human life as much as we do. They are violent. They oppress their women. They are savages,” Shaheen says.

“When I grew up, it was Native Americans. Blacks. … We had the red scare with Communists. So we have all of these formulas from the past that sort of make their way to the present. Now it’s Arab equals Muslim equals the godless enemy Other. And it’s hard, because once we begin to get a fixed image of a people or a faith in our minds, it’s difficult to shake.”

Detroit Free Press, 23 March 2008