Several of Hollywood's most blatant patterns of bias fall within the categories of race, ethnicity and/or national origin. Included in this group are negative and/or stereotypical portrayals of Arabs and Arab-Americans, Asians and Asian-Americans, Hispanics and Latinos, African-Americans, along with Native Americans.
Arabs and Arab-Americans--Arabs and Arab-Americans have often complained about being negatively portrayed in American movies, an obvious pattern of bias ignored by Medved in his important work Hollywood vs. America. In one of the most recent incidents of Arab-bashing, Walt Disney Studios actually changed two " . . . lines of lyrics [sung by the movie's evil Jafar character] for the opening number 'Arabian Nights' in the animated smash Aladdin, following protests from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee." The lyrics referred to Aladdin's hometown, (i.e., a place "Where they cut off your ear/If they don't like your face/It's barbaric, but hey, it's home.") "But even toned down, Jafar instantly joins the ranks of the studio's most sinister villains."
The Negative portrayals of Arabs in Hollywood movies, however, has been a consistent feature of American films for many years. As early as 1921, The Sheik starred Rudolph Valentino in a film about " . . . an oversexed desert royal who carries an English girl off to his tent." George Melford directed. Two years later (1923), Theda Bara was featured in Salome the original movie version of the " . . . events leading up to (the) . . . famous dance of the seven veils."
The Hollywood film " . . . colony knew that the fatal vamp, being sold to the rubes as a French- Arab demon of depravity born beneath the Sphinx, was in truth Theodosia Goodman, a Jewish tailor's daughter from Chillicothe, Ohio, a meek little goody-two-shoes." A remake of the film starring Rita Hayworth was released in 1953.
In the 1924 release of The Thief of Baghdad a thief " . . . uses magic to outwit the evil Caliph." Raoul Walsh directed this early version. The film was remade in 1940 as a British production (produced by Alexander Korda; Ludwig Berger-Director); again in 1961 as a French/Italian production (Arthur Lubin-Director) and for television in 1978 (Clive Donner- Director). The 1924 version " . . . includes a performance by Brandon Hurst " . . . as the villainous caliph . . . "
Two years later, (1926) Son of the Sheik, starred Rudolph Valentino and Vilma Banky in a " . . . sequel to The Sheik. The film was " . . . full of sandy fights, romance, chases, and escapes." George Fitzmaurice who emigrated to the U.S. from France in the early '20s directed. Karl Dane " . . . played a shifty Arab . . . "
The Mummy (1933) starred Boris Karloff and Zita Johann as " . . . a reawakened Egyptian high priest . . . (who) reappears in the guise of Ardath Bey, an Egyptologist intent on slaying a young Englishwoman possessed by the soul of his dead princess lover." Karl Freund who emigrated to the U.S. in 1929 directed. The following year, in Lost Patrol (1934) a " . . . British patrol is ambushed by hostile Arabs and picked off one by one." John Ford directed.
More stereotypical Arabs appeared in Universal's The Mummy's Hand (1940) with Dick Foran and Peggy Moran. The film is about "[t]wo archaeologists excavating Egyptian tombs . . . " and they " . . . inadvertently trigger a mummy rampage . . . " Jay Griffin directed. Two years later, The Mummy's Tomb (1942) starred Lon Chaney and Dick Foran and Turhan Bey in a film about an " . . . Egyptian fanatic (who) brings a mummy back to life, and sends it out to do his dirty work." Harold Young directed. That same year, Walter Wanger (Feuchtwanger) produced the 1942 Universal release Arabian Nights. It continued the pattern of stereotypical portrayals of Arabs focusing on " . . . the days of dancing slave girls, tent cities, and the Caliph of Baghdad."
In 1943, the J. Walter Ruben production, distributed by MGM (Assignment in Brittany) was released. It contained gratuitous violence against an Arab, an " . . . opening scene in which a Free French officer stabbed an Arab." The following year, Everett Riskin produced the MGM release Kismet (1944). The film starred Marlene Dietrich in a " . . . fable of poets and caliphs and poets' daughters . . . " German born William Dieterle directed. Another version, directed by Vincente Minnelli, was made in 1955. It was " . . . about the wise beggar and his beautiful daughter in old Baghdad . . . " Also, in 1944, The Mummy's Ghost (produced by Ben Pivar and released by Universal) starred Lon Chaney as the " . . . gause-wrapped mummy of Prince Kharis in America, searching for the reincarnation of his ancient love." Vienna born Reginald Le Borg directed.
The consistent stereotypical and negative portrayals of Arabs continued in 1947 (in the absence of positive portrayals) with Sinbad the Sailor starring Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Maureen O'Hara, Walter Slezak, George Tobias and Anthony Quinn. In this film the " . . . seafaring storyteller has adventurous experiences with a secret amulet and a beautiful princess." Steven Ames produced and Richard Wallace directed for release by RKO. Halliwell's Film Guide refers to the film as an Arabian Nights Swashbuckler.
Universal's Casbah (1948) is about a " . . . criminal who hides from the law in the Casbah section of Algiers . . . " The film was produced by German-born Erik Charell and directed by John Berry. In Bagdad (1949) the " . . . British-educated daughter of a tribal leader of the desert returns to her people after her father is murdered." The film was produced by Robert Arthur and directed by Charles Lamont.
The stereotypical Arabian Nights adventures continue into the '50s with the Columbia release The Desert Hawk. This one features Jackie Gleason in " . . . the supporting role of Aladdin . . . " Mississippi-born B. Reeves Eason directed. The Magic Carpet (1951) starred Lucille Ball and Raymond Burr " . . . in the mystical time of Caliphs and Viziers . . . " in what Steven Scheuer calls a " . . . corny Arabian Nights farce." Lew Landers (Friedlander) directed. Also, in 1951, The Prince Who Was a Thief stars Tony Curtis (Schwatz) and Piper Laurie in a " . . . film about the plush pageantry of the Arabian Nights and the colorful Princes and Paupers who lived on opposite sides of the Masques." The film was produced by Leonard Goldstein and directed by Polish-born Rudolph Mate (Matheh).
The 1952 Columbia release Harem Girl is described by Steven Scheuer as a "[t]ypically raucous and cheerful Joan Davis comedy set in an Arabian Nights locale." Halliwell's says the story is about a " . . . secretary to a princess (who) vanquishes her employer's Arab ill-wishers." Edward Bernds directed. That same year, Babes in Bagdad (1952) starred Paulette Goddard in what Steven Scheuer calls a "[r]idiculous burlesque of Arabian Nights epics . . . " Halliwell's says the film was about a harem that " . . . goes on strike." The film was directed by Vienna born Edgar G. Ulmer.
Also in 1952, in Universal's Flame of Araby, Jeff Chandler " . . . dons the trappings of a desert shiek who woos and wins the not-so-fiery princess Maureen O'Hara . . . " Charles Lamont directed. That same year, (1952) Son of Ali Baba starred Tony Curtis, Piper Laurie and Hugh O'Brian in what Steven Scheuer calls a " . . . typical Arabian nights adventure with Curtis cast as the son of Ali Baba and Princess Azura." Kurt Neumann directed.
The following year, Saadia (1953) starred Cornel Wilde, Mel Ferrer and Rita Gam in a film " . . . set in Morocco where a young girl who believes she is a sorceress, a dashing leader of the Berber tribes, and a doctor engage in a war against plague and belief in black magic." Albert Lewin directed. That same year, Salome (the remake) starred Rita Hayworth, Stewart Granger, Charles Laughton and Judith Anderson. Its the " . . . story of Salome and the events leading up to her famous dance of the seven veils." William Dieterle directed. Also, in 1953, the film Veils of Bagdad starred Victor Mature, Mari Blanchard, Virginia Field and James Arness in what Steven Scheuer describes as another " . . . typical Arabian Nights adventure." Stereotypes abound. New York born George Sherman directed.
The 1954 release The Adventures of Hajji Baba is about " . . . a barber longing for adventure . . . " He " . . . finds it when he rescues the daughter of the caliph." According to Steven Scheuer, the film is " . . . played straight, which makes this Arabian Nights tale even funnier." The film was produced by Walter Wanger and directed by Don Weis. Also, in 1954, MGM's Valley of the Kings starred Robert Taylor, Eleanor Parker and Carlos Thompson. It was an " . . . adventure set in Egypt. Taylor plays an archeologist who accompanies Eleanor Parker and her villainous husband on an expedition to the tombs of Pharaoh Rahotep." Robert Pirosh directed. That same year, (1954), RKO's Son of Sinbad was released, starring Dale Robertson, Sally Forrest and Vincent Price. In this film, "Sinbad is captured by a wicked caliph, (and) must perform arduous tasks to win his freedom." Ted Tetzlaff directed. Warner's Land of the Pharaohs came out in 1955. It is an " . . . account of the building of the pyramids . . . " the story of " . . . a visionary pharaoh saddled with an ambitious wife . . . " Howard Hawks directed. Also, that year, MGM's The Prodigal starred Lana Turner and Edmund Purdom in a " . . . 70 B.C . . . ." tale about a " . . . wicked high priestess . . . " who makes " . . . it rough all over." The film was produced by Charles Schnee and directed by Richard Thorpe.
In 1957, Pharaoh Curse starred Mark Dana and Ziva Rodann in the story of an "[a]rcheological expedition (that) encounters a monster from thousands of years ago in Egypt." Lee Sholem directed. That same year, Paramount's The Sad Sack starred Jerry Lewis " . . . in the army again, as inept as ever, getting mixed up with spies and Arabian intrigue." The film was produced by Paul Nathan and directed by Chicago-born George Marshall.
In 1959, the British production of The Mummy starred Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. The film was about " . . . an archaeological dig where a mummy comes back to life to deal with the scientists disturbing its rest." The film was produced by Michael Carreras and directed by Terence Fisher, both born in London. The next year, (1960), The Wizard of Baghdad featured Dick Shawn and Diane Baker in the story of a "[g]enie without much talent (who) is ordered to settle down in his work (and), is assigned to Baghdad." George Sherman directed. Also in 1960, 101 Arabian Nights is " . . . back in old Baghdad . . . (and) the nearsighted one is a lamp dealer whose nephew, Aladdin, gets the lamp with the genie." Jack Kinney directed.
Paramount's Escape from Xahrain (1962) was about a "[r]ebel leader in an Arab oil state (who) escapes along with some fellow-convicts, and they make a dash for the border." London- born Ronald Neame produced and directed. Also in 1962, Columbia's Lawrence of Arabia (actually a British production) was " . . . about the legendary British officer and his exploits, military and nonmilitary, in Palestine circa WWI." Austrian-born Sam Spiegel produced and Britisher David Lean directed.
In 1963 Detroit-born Richard Quine directed Columbia's Siren of Bagdad, an " . . . Arabian Nights tale . . . " The film starred Paul Henried, Patricia Medina and Hans Conreid. That same year, Blood Feast (1963) featured " . . . a crazed Egyptian caterer who carves up young girls to pay homage to his favorite goddess." New York-born Sam Katzman produced. In 1964, The Moon-Spinners was a U.S./British production staring Hayley Mills, Joan Greenwood and Eli Wallach. It is a " . . . Disney mystery about jewel thieves . . . (and) a young girl's misadventures in Crete . . . " The film also features " . . . silent-screen star Pola Negri . . . as Madame Habib, a shady buyer of stolen goods." The film was produced by Bill Anderson and directed by James Neilson.
In 1965, 20th Century Fox's John Goldfarb, Please Come Home starred Shirley MacLaine, Peter Ustinov and Richard Crenna. Scheuer calls the film, produced by Steve Parker and directed by J. Lee Thompson, an " . . . offbeat comedy set in a mythical Arabian principality . . . " The story is actually about an " . . . American spy pilot (who) crashlands near the palace of a Middle Eastern potentate as the same time as a girl reporter arrives for an interview." That same year, in Sword of Ali Baba (Universal) "Ali Baba is forced from the royal court to become a king of thieves." Virgil Vogel directed. Also in 1965, Elvis Presley appeared in MGM's Harum Scarum as ". . . a movie star who is kidnapped while he's on a personal appearance tour in the Middle East." New York-born Sam Katzman produced and Gene Nelson (born Gene Berg in Seattle) directed.
UA's Cast a Giant Shadow (1966) was " . . . about the Israeli-Arab conflict in the days when Israel first became a state. Kirk Douglas is . . . Col. Marcus, the legendary American soldier who helps shape up Israel's fighting force in 1948." New York-born Melville Shavelson, who in 1971 " . . . published a book, How to Make Jewish Movie, about his misadventures while filming (this film) . . . in Israel . . . ", wrote, produced and directed. Of course, the dreaded Arabs are the enemy. In 1967, the British production, The Mummy's Shroud was released. It was about " . . . an archaeological exploring group (that) discovers a pharaoh tomb and gets a curse put on them." Britisher John Gilling directed. Two years later, 20th Century Fox's Justine (1969) tells the story of the " . . . mysterious wife of a well-to-do banker in 1930s Alexandria (who) becomes involved in Middle East politics." New York-born Pandro S. Berman produced and George Cukor directed with Joseph Strick.
In 1974, Vienna-born Otto Preminger produced and directed UA's Rosebud, starring Peter O'Toole, Richard Attenborough, Cliff Gorman and John V. Lindsay. Scheuer says the film was " . . . about politics, espionage, the C.I.A., the Israel-Arab war and dozens of other subjects." In the film "[f]ive girls of wealthy families are kidnapped by the Palestine Liberation Army." Producer/director Preminger is identified by the Katz Film Encyclopedia as being "Jewish".
Twenty-One Hours at Munich (1976) starred William Holden, Shirley Knight and Franco Nero in a so-called made for TV movie about the " . . . slaughter of the Israeli athletes by Arab terrorists during the 1972 Olympics." William A. Graham directed. That same year, Marvin Chomsky directed Victory at Entebbe (1976), a made for TV movie starring Elizabeth Taylor, Kirk Douglas, Linda Blair, Burt Lancaster and Helen Hayes. The film was a " . . . re-creation of the dramatic Israeli rescue of the hostages at Uganda's Entebbe Airport . . . "
Again, the point here does not relate to whether such movies should or should not have been made, but whether in the long run they are balanced with movies portraying the Arab point of view. For example, from the Arab perspective, some would say that the only difference between Arab terrorism and Israeli terrorism is that the latter is state sponsored, which presumably provides more legitimacy in the eyes of many. On the other hand, if Israel and its powerful friends would allow the Palestinians to have a state, maybe their terrorism could also be more legitimate, at least in that same sense. Surely, the Arabs would love to have some of the deadly Israeli attacks on Arabs dramatized in a glossy American-made film with well-known American stars, but they simply do not have the opportunity, because the production and distribution apparatus in America is controlled by a small group of Jewish males of European heritage, who are politically liberal and not very religious, with loyalties quite naturally more aligned with Israel (see analysis in Who Really Controls Hollywood).
Also, in 1976, Richard Sarafian directed The Next Man (1976--produced by Martin Bergman) starring Sean Connery, Carnelia Sharpe and Albert Paulsen. The film is described by Scheuer as a " . . . political thriller about Saudi Arabian diplomats, and the effort to kill The Next Man." The plot actually involves the hiring of a " . . . female assassin . . . to kill the Saudi Arabian Minister of State at the United Nations." Surely this is an irresponsible film concept considering the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. The Katz Film Encyclopedia reports that Sarafian was New York-born of Armenian descent. New York-born Martin Bregman produced and co-wrote the story.
In Paramount's 1977 release, Black Sunday, the " . . . Arab guerrilla terrorist organization Black September plans to intimidate America by blowing up the Super Bowl (with a stolen Goodyear blimp) while the President is in attendance." According to former Paramount studio chief Robert Evans (Shapera), the film's producer, the " . . . Red Army of Japan threatened to blow up every theater around the world that exhibited Black Sunday. To them, it was sacrilegious to the plight of the Arab people . . . " Notices were also " . . . put up in Jewish- owned stores throughout the country calling for a boycott of the film." The film was directed by John Frankenheimer who was born in New York " . . . to a German-Jewish stockbroker father and an Irish Catholic mother."
Also, in 1977, American producer Jerry Bruckheimer, co-produced March or Die (with the UK). The film starred Gene Hackman, Candice Bergen, Terence Hill, Max von Sydow and Catherine Deneuve " . . . under the half-baked desert sun . . . " in a story about " . . . loyal Legionnaires fend(ing) off (an) attack by blood-thirsty, ubiquitous Arabs . . . " Another American, Dick Richards, directed. That same year, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) was a British film (distributed domestically by Columbia) starring Patrick Wayne, Taryn Power and Jane Seymour as "Sinbad searches for a prince who's been transformed into a tiger by a sorceress's evil spell." American Sam Wannamaker, directed. The British produced another Arabian adventure released in the U.S. called Arabian Adventure in 1979. It was about a " . . . wicked caliph (who) seeks ultimate power through a magical rose."
As the '80s decade opened, Raymond Burr starred in The Curse of King Tut's Tomb (1980) " . . . as the scheming villain . . . in dark makeup, wearing a towel on his head . . . " Sphinx (1981) starred Lesley-Anne Down, Frank Langella, Sir John Gielgud in a film about an Egyptologist who " . . . finds herself in the thick of an intrigue involving stolen riches from ancient tombs." Tokyo-born Franklin Schaffner, "[t]he son of Protestant American missionaries . . . " directed. Also in 1981, Orion's Rollover starred Jane Fonda and Kris Kristofferson in a " . . . thriller involving murder and intrigue in the world of high finance and exploring what might happen should Arab oil money be suddenly withdrawn from American banks instead of redeposited ('rolled over') as expected." Do people really believe that such powerful suggestions made through film do not influence the thinking of thousands in the audience? The film was produced by Bruce Gilbert. New York-born Alan J. Pakula, " . . . of Polish-Jewish parents . . . " directed.
In the meantime, in 1981, the " . . . April/May issue of The Link, a magazine published by an organization called 'Americans for Middle East Understanding', (was) . . . entirely devoted to attacking the media's negative portraits of Arabs, particularly in conjunction with positive images of Israelis . . . " exactly the kind of pattern of bias this film listing demonstrates.
One of the few films that provide a somewhat positive portrayal of Arabs was independently produced by Falcon International and directed by Moustapha Akkad. The 1981 release Lion of the Desert starred Anthony Quinn who (according to Steven Scheuer) " . . . leads the local rebels against . . . " Mussolini, who is " . . . set to conquer Libya in the thirties . . . " The description found in Halliwell's Film Guide seems to favor the Italian fascists in the conflict, however, saying the film is about " . . . an Italian general in Libya (who) withstands the attacks of rebel leader Omar Mukhtar. Halliwell's goes on to call the film a "[w]hitewashed account of the activities of a patriarchal partisan who was hanged in 1931 . . . " and that the film is "[o]f interest primarily to Arab zealots." Would it then be equally fair and accurate to say that all of the rest of the films listed in this study (that portray Arabs in a negative or stereotypical manner) would primarily be of interest to "Jewish zealots"?
In the 1984 Warner release, Cannonball Run II a stereotypical Arab " . . . sheik promises a million bucks to the winner of a cross-country car race . . . " The following year, Jeff Goldblum stars in Into the Night (1985) and gets " . . . mixed up with Iranian bad guys after some stolen gems." Albert S. Ruddy produced and Chicago-born John Landis directed.
Also, in 1985 20th Century-Fox's The Jewel of the Nile starred Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in a " . . . tale about a Holy War in the Middle East." Douglas, the son of Kirk Douglas (who was born in New York Issur Danielovitch to Russian Jewish peasant immigrants) also produced and New York-born Lewis Teague directed. In this film, a sequel to Romancing the Stone, the Turner character is invited " . . . to travel with . . . (a) fabulously wealth Arab (Spiros Focas) . . . to his homeland . . . " for some very vague reasons. The Turner character " . . . is quickly involved in danger as the Arab reveals plans to usurp the role of a legendary holy man (played by Avner Eisenberg), and (the) Douglas (character) becomes an ally of the great spiritual leader, who is known as the Jewel of the Nile." That same year, Israeli Menahem Golan produced and directed (for Cannon) The Delta Force (1985) The " . . . chief terrorist . . . " in the film is named Abdul. Ebert calls the film a thinly disguised dramatization of " . . . the June 1985 hijacking of the TWA airplane and the hostage crisis after the passengers were held captive in Beirut."
The 1986 Edward Pressman production, Half Moon Street starred Sigourney Weaver and Michael Caine in a movie that portrays stereotypical " . . . rich Middle Easterners" and a plot having " . . . to do with Middle Eastern intrigues, spy rings, terrorists, and plans to sabotage (a) . . . peace initiative." The film was directed by Bob Swaim. That same year, The Sword of Gideon (1986) was a so-called made for TV movie starring Steve Bauer, Michael York and Rod Steiger. The film tells a " . . . story about a trained commando group hired to avenge the deaths of athletes massacred at the Munich Olympics in 1972." Michael Anderson directed.
Also, in 1986, The Tomb starred Cameron Mitchell, John Carradine, Sybil Danning, Susan Stokey, Richard Alan Hench and Michelle Bauer in a story about " . . . an Egyptian princess who reincarnates so she can acquire amulets needed to keep her revivable." Fred Olen Ray directed. That same year, (1986), On Wings of Eagles presents a " . . . businessman (who) decides to bypass diplomacy and the excuses of his government in order to set free two of his employees captured by the Iranians." Andrew McLaglen directed.
In the Harold Ramis directed Club Paradise (for Warner release--1986) " . . . greedy Arabs . . . " are thrown into the middle of a conflict between snobs and slobs on a tropical island. The film was produced by Michael Shamberg. Also, in 1986, Popeye Doyle tells the story of a man " . . . involved . . . in a drug-homicide case that's linked to terrorism and the balance of power in the Middle East." Peter Levin directed. The following year (1987), Death Before Dishonor (1987) features " . . . a Marine gunnery sergeant (who) gets fighting mad after extremists hijack American weapons and kidnap his commanding officer in . . . " an Arab country."
Columbia's 1987 release, Ishtar starred Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman as " . . . a singing-songwriting duo who become involved in international intrigue when . . . " according to Steven Scheuer, " . . . they bring their rancid lounge act to the fictional Saudi city of Ishtar." On the other hand, Ebert says the plot of Ishtar involves " . . . two . . . songwriters who dream of (making it big, but who actually) . . . perform bad songs badly before appalled audiences. Their agent gets them a gig in Morrocco, and once they're in Northern Africa, they become involved in the political intrigues of the mythical nation of Ishtar . . . " exacerbated by the CIA. Our film critics seem to disagree as to whether the film was set in Northern Africa or Saudi Arabia and as to whether Ishtar is a city or a country. In any case, the film was directed by Elaine May (born Elaine Berlin in Philadelphia) who as a " . . . child . . . toured in several plays with her father, Yiddish stage actor Jack Berlin.
In the meantime, Hollywood historian George MacDonald Frazer reported in 1989 that based on his studies, Hollywood movies about ancient Egypt " . . . have helped to fix in the public mind the idea of old Egypt as a cult-ridden, curse-stricken land of mystery given over to embalming, necrolatry, interbreeding, and the worship of gods with animal heads." Based on the above study, it would appear that Arabs in general are, in more modern times, most commonly portrayed in Hollywood films as terrorists.
Finally, as the '90s decade opened, and Not Without My Daughter hit the screens, film critic Roger Ebert, noted what he referred to as ". . . moral and racial assertions (in the film) that are deeply troubling." The movie is about " . . . a mother deprived of her child and her freedom by the rigid rules of an unbending religion (Islamic fundamentalism) . . . " As Ebert reports, "[n]o Muslim character is painted in a favorable light . . . " Instead they are portrayed as " . . . harsh, cruel religious fanatics." Ebert states that the film " . . . does not play fair with its Muslim characters." He says that if " . . . a movie of such a vitriolic and spiteful nature were to be made in America about any other ethnic group, it would be denounced as racist and prejudiced." Ebert then suggests that " . . . movies fueled by hate are not part of the solution." Finally, after all the other anti-Arab movies included above, it took an extreme example of prejudice expressed through a movie released in 1990 for critic Roger Ebert to recognize how vicious Hollywood's prejudice and propaganda can be and has been (as directed toward the Arabs) throughout the history of the Hollywood-based U.S. film industry.
Patrick Robertson reported that same year (1990), that "[w]hile the greasy, knife-toting Mexican, the shuffling, wide-eyed Negro and the perfidious American Indian have been discarded as offensive stereotypes, there is no such constraint on depicting Arabs as oily and oversexed or shifty-eyed and violent. Nicholas Kaldi is a US-based Iraqi who makes his living playing terrorists, but deplores the racial typecasting. 'There are other kinds of Arabs in the world', he said in a 1990 interview with the Washington Post. 'I would like to think that some day there will be an Arab role out there for me that would be an honest portrayal.'"
Hollywood has not seemed to pay much heed to Robertson, Ebert or Kaldi, however. As reported above, in Disney's Aladdin (1992) "[m]ost of the Arab characters have exaggerated facial characteristics--hooked noses, glowering brows, thick lips--but Aladdin and the princess look like white American teen-agers." Also, in 1992, Vidmark's Beyond Justice features " . . . a former CIA hotshot (who is) hired by a wealthy woman (Carol Alt) to rescue her kidnapped son. The mission takes them to Morrocco, on the trail of an Arab warrior (Omar Sharif) who is keeping the little boy captive somewhere in the Sahara."
In 1993's Hot Shots! Part Deux, Charley Sheen stars in another David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker sendup. This movie has the hero on " . . . a mission to rescue hostages from a Hussain-like dictator." Also, the 1993 Warner Bros release The Pelican Brief (starring Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington) " . . . opens with two Supreme Court justices murdered on the same night by a contract killer named Khamel (Stanley Tucci)."
Even more recently, the 1994 release True Lies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis, portrayed Arab terrorists as cardboard characters and idiots. Also, in the 1994 release Little Odessa, a Mafia hitman of Russian-Jewish heritage is contracted to erase an Iranian jeweler . . . " and the " . . . Iranian contract is carried out . . . " Hollywood must hope that all of the Arab viewers of these propagandistic movies are reasonable and broad minded enough to perceive them as mere entertainment and not the vicious anti-Arab propaganda that they are. Otherwise, Hollywood has created its own time bomb with such a blatant pattern of racist or religious-based bias.
As 1995 got underway, and the tragic Oklahoma City bomb blast occurred, many news commentators and others were quick to point an accusatory finger at Middle East terrorists and Muslim Fundamentalists. One Arab-American spokesman, when asked why people in the U.S. were so quick to lay blame on Arabs, included in his response a short list of recent Hollywood movies that included negative portrayals of such persons. Much of our nation's population, including political leaders and the press, had been seduced by Hollywood propaganda.
In summary, Hollywood, throughout its history, has portrayed Arabs as evil, barbaric, oversexed, depraved, villainous, shifty, possessed, hostile, fanatical, criminal, mystical, wicked and crazed. Arabs have also been portrayed as thieves, shady, kidnappers, enemies, mysterious, murderers, assassins, terrorists, blood-thirsty, saboteurs, extremists, cult-ridden, curse-stricken, oily, shifty-eyed, violent and as idiots.
This review of Hollywood movies involving Arab characters clearly demonstrates that the U.S. film community consistently portrays Arabs in a stereotypical or negative manner and that little or no effort has been made by Hollywood filmmakers to balance their portrayals of Arabs with positive portrayals in the same movies or a similar number of positive portrayals in other movies. Thus, the overall presentation of Arabs in American movies is clearly one sided, clearly negative, and propagandistic to that extent. In my view, there is nothing more unethical in the extreme than to see a specific population such as that small group of Jewish males of a European heritage, who are politically liberal and not very religious, using the power of the moving image in American motion pictures to consistently portray some of their long suffering arch enemies in a negative manner, thus, in effect seeking to brainwash the American and world publics with a very powerful form of propaganda.
Research Projects--How many of the above cited films, which appear to negatively or stereotypically portray Arabs, were written, produced, directed or financed (with significant creative control) by Arabs or Arab-Americans? How many movies has Hollywood produced and released that contain only positive portrayals of Arabs or Arab Americans?
Asians and Asian-Americans--Asian-American groups have also protested from time to time about their portrayals in Hollywood movies. As noted in the book Movies and Propaganda, Hollywood's anti-Japanese films of World War II, were often " . . . blatantly racist . . . " For example, the 1942 Warner Bros. film Across the Pacific dealt with Japanese treachery before Pearl Harbor, and as stated by Harry Warner, was " . . . one of the first films to depict our Oriental enemies as cold, calculating and ruthless, completely efficient and not at all the nearsighted, weak and stupid enemy who can be 'knocked off the map in six weeks.'"
In any case, as recently as 1990, the Japanese movie Black Rain (directed by Shohei Imamura) told " . . . the story of survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bomb who were contaminated by the fallout." The movie was not released, however, in the U.S. until a year after is premiere " . . . at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1989 . . . " ostensibly to avoid confusion with " . . . the 1989 Michael Douglas thriller of the same name . . . " that portrayed " . . . a canny, aggressive (Japanese) society with (modern) criminals . . . " Aside from the fact that U.S. filmmakers have only rarely focused attention on the Japanese experience in World War II, and that foreign films generally do not get much exposure in the U.S., in this case, the U.S. film industry went one step further and effectively preempted an audience for the Japanese film by presenting a negative portrayal of Japanese society through a film with the same name, prior to the release of the Japanese film in the U.S. Was this an ironic accident or another example of Hollywood hardball?
In addition, recent Hollywood movies have continued the negative and stereotypical portrayal of Asians and Asian-Americans. For example, 1,000 Pieces of Gold (1991) was a movie about the fact that " . . . years after slavery was abolished in America, Asians were still held in involuntary servitude . . . " According to film critic Roger Ebert, the movie " . . . paints an overwhelmingly negative portrait of Chinese men . . . [t]he only man portrayed positively in the film is . . . ." a white man--Charlie (played by Chris Cooper). The following year, many Asian- American groups held a " . . . nationwide protest against the movie Rising Sun, saying the film could incite a wave of anti-Asian violence." " . . . Michael Crichton's 1992 thriller (was) about two L.A. cops who uncover a Japanese business conspiracy . . . " The film " . . . met with a storm of controversy . . . (and) was attacked by Asian groups who said it perpetuated the book's Japan bashing."
In March of 1993, a Korean-American coalition blasted the Warner Bros. film Falling Down for its " . . . portrayal of minorities--a prime target of Michael Douglas' character, an unemployed defense worker who goes on a gun-toting tirade." The Joel Schumacher directed film features Douglas as " . . . a crew-cut white man . . . " going berserk due to the pressures of work and urban life. Douglas then takes his frustrations out on a series of African-Americans, Latinos, Koreans and other whites including " . . . a neo-Nazi gun-shop owner . . . " As John Simon also reports, " . . . Korean and Hispanic protestors . . . " demonstrated outside movie houses presenting this feature.
It is difficult to tell with this movie, who ought to be offended the most the crew-cut white men Douglas is supposed to represent, or his many victims. On the other hand, it may be that the Korean and Hispanic protestors were mostly concerned about movies which suggest that a remedy to frustration is to start shooting at minorities. That was the same concern expressed by Jewish groups who objected to the movie Crossfire back in 1947.
Some may fail to be persuaded by this small sampling of anti-Asian films, that such a bias exists in Hollywood. On the other hand, such counter-arguments need to be supported by a similar number of Hollywood films that provide a positive portrayal of such persons. The record reflects that Hollywood's portraits of Asians includes portraying such persons as enemies, cold, calculating, ruthless, aggressive, criminal, slave owners and as conspiring businessmen.
Hispanics and Latinos--Hollywood motion pictures about " . . . the Latino experience in America seem ineluctably tied to despair, whether rooted in the lives of East Coast Cubans, and 'Newyoricans,' of West Coast Chicanos, or of other groups in other places . . . " according to Entertainment Weekly's Ty Burr. Burr goes on to report that the " . . . link between such disparate films as the fablelike The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, the shimmeringly tragic El Norte, the worshipful La Bamba, and the cautionary Crossover Dreams lies in their knowledge of assimilation's paradox: that you can live the American dream only by losing your cultural soul."
Other Hollywood films with Hispanic or Latino characters seem to exhibit the same pattern of bias. For example, The Ring (1952) stars Gerald Mohr, Lalo Rios and Rita Moreno in the story of a "Mexican lad from the Los Angeles slums (who) is turned into a boxing prospect, (but he) gets too cocky as a result." Kurt Neumann directed.
The Tijuana Story (1957) starred James Darren and Joy Stoner in a " . . . drama about a youth's involvement with the 'drug traffic' in the open city of Tijuana." Leslie Kardos directed.
In the '60s, The Appaloosa (1966) featured Marlon Brando " . . . pitted against a Mexican bandit . . . " The Professionals (1966) starred Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Claudia Cardinale and Jack Palance in a story about a man who hires another " . . . to fetch his allegedly kidnapped wife . . . back from Mexico where she has been taken by bandito Jack Palance." Richard Brooks directed. Backtrack (1969) was about a man who " . . . is sent . . . to pickup a bull in Mexico. On the way he runs into mucho mean hombres." Also, Viva Max! (1969) starred Peter Ustinov, Jonathan Winters, Pamela Tiffin and Keenan Wynn in the story of " . . . a modern-day Mexican general with a thick accent, (who) leads a scraggly group of men over the border and into the Alamo, reclaiming the tourist attraction for his homeland." Jerry Paris directed. Finally, in 1969, The Wild Bunch starred William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Edmond O'Brien, Warren Oates and Robert Ryan in a film about " . . . violence on the Texas-Mexican border . . . (as) a cynical band of outlaws join . . . a rebel Mexican general against law, order, and the Mexican army." Sam Peckinpah directed.
In the '70s, Cannon for Cordoba (1970) starred George Peppard as the head of " . . . a contingent of soldiers safeguarding the Texas border in 1912." In Breakout (1975) Charles Bronson " . . . plays a helicopter pilot who engineers the escape of a falsely accused prisoner from a Mexican prison." Walk Proud (1979) starred Robby Benson and Sarah Holcomb with Benson as a Chicano who falls in love with well-off WASP Holcomb . . . " The film presents the story of " . . . a gang member and his conflicts in the Los Angeles barrio . . . " Robert Collins directed. The film was written by Evan Hunter. Also, in 1979, The Streets of L.A. was another so-called made for TV movie starring Joanne Woodward and Fernando Allende in the story of " . . . a harried Los Angeles realtor, a plucky middle-aged divorcee worn down by life's slaps in the face. When her tires are slashed by Chicanos, she invades the Barrio to demand repayment." Jerrold Freedman directed.
Finally, in 1983, film critic Ebert is able to report that El Norte is one of the " . . . rare films that grants Latin Americans full humanity . . . " The film " . . . tells the story of two young Guatemalans . . . and of their long trek up through Mexico to el Norte--the United States. Their journey begins in a small village and ends in Los Angeles, and their dream is the American Dream . . . " Ebert says the picture is the first " . . . to approach the subject of 'undocumented workers' solely through their eyes . . . " Not surprisingly, the film was " . . . made entirely outside the (Hollywood) studio system . . . "
Back to business as usual in 1988, Spike of Bensonhurst was a movie about the " . . .domestic arrangements of a middle-class Mafia household . . . " It seeks to generate humor by painting " . . . broad racial stereotypes . . . " and some of those who saw it complained that it was nothing more than an " . . . extended racist slur against . . . Puerto Ricans . . . " among others.
In 1991, the Warner Bros. feature The Mambo Kings focused on two Cuban musician brothers who were trying to cross over to Anglo audiences. The film is directed by " . . . a non- Hispanic neophyte . . . " (although experienced producer) and one of the two lead roles is played by an actor of Italian-Irish heritage, not Spanish. The next year, the Edward James Olmos movie American Me (1992) tells a story about Mexican-Americans in Southern California. That sounds promising enough at first blush. But the story traced " . . . the sordid life of [a] jailhouse drug kingpin . . . "
In a 1992 interview, young Hispanic filmmaker Robert Rodriguez complained that there are not enough " . . . positive Latin roles . . . " in Hollywood films. Rodriquez subsequently stated that he's anxious to create more Hispanic characters. "Growing up Mexican American," he said, " . . . the role models I had were Cheech & Chong. If I want to see myself depicted differently, I have to go out and make my own films, because nobody else really cares."
Buena Vista's 1993 offering, Blood In Blood Out seems " . . . preoccupied with capturing the feel of Latino culture and life in East Los Angeles . . . " while also " . . . detailing a bloody prison gang war (and) . . . exploring the tough choices and different paths that can lead to salvation or tragedy in the inner city." Also, that year, Bound by Honor (1993) tells the story of " . . . a young man with a white father and a Chicano mother, who fights for acceptance by the barrio gangs of East Los Angeles . . . " In addition to showing a stereotypical view of East Los Angeles, the movie shows that " . . . prisons are divided into three camps: the Chicanos, the blacks, and the whites, who are . . . portrayed as racist, although in fact they're exactly as racist as the others." Bound By Honor traces " . . . the intertwined fortunes of three Hispanic toughs who have been raised in the inflammatory criminal culture of East L.A." True to form, the Sylvester Stallone/Sharon Stone film The Specialist (Warner Bros.--1994) features an entire cadre of Latino drug dealer villains. The film was produced by Jerry Weintraub, directed by Luis Llosa with the screenplay by Alexandra Seros. The film also starred James Woods, Rod Steiger and Eric Roberts.
Again, Hollywood movies have consistently portrayed Hispanics/Latinos in a negative or stereotypical manner. These people have been portrayed as drug trafficers, in despair, kidnapers, mean, macho, scraggly, violent, cynical, gang members, tire slashers, prison inmates and as racists. Such a pattern of bias appears to be a direct result of the systematic exclusion of Hispanic/Latinos from positions of authority in the Hollywood power structure. After all, if there were more Hispanic/Latinos in decision-making positions at the studios, surely it would follow that more films would include better informed and more sensitive portrayals of such populations. This explains why widespread employment discrimination in Hollywood contributes to a narrowly focused perspective represented in Hollywood films.
African-Americans--Eddie Murphy's " . . . moral outrage about the treatment of blacks in the motion picture industry led to two remarkable protests. At the 1988 Academy Awards show, Eddie was the presenter for Best Picture . . . he delivered an unscheduled, rambling diatribe against the Hollywood establishment. An angry Eddie announced to shocked viewers that he almost did not show because 'they haven't recognized black people in motion pictures,' only three blacks have won Oscars in over sixty years. At this rate (Eddie said) 'we ain't due until 2004.' A year earlier, Eddie had refused to pose for Paramount's seventy-fifth anniversary group photo of the studio's great stars . . . " because he thought there would be no other blacks in the photo. Actually there was one other, Lou Gossett, Jr., although that is clearly not enough to suggest that Eddie Murphy's original sentiment was in error.
Of course, Hollywood has a long history of portraying African-Americans in a negative or stereotypical manner, pre-dating World War II. The federal government's Office of War Information, reported during the war, however, that one of the " . . . most serious home-front problem[s] . . . " with respect to film during WWII, related to " . . . the portrayal of blacks . . . " The OWI said, " . . . Hollywood found it difficult to abandon its time-worn demeaning portrayals of blacks."
As screenwriter Dalton Trumbo stated, the " . . . movies made 'tarts of the Negro's daughters, crap shooters of his sons, obsequious Uncle Toms of his fathers, superstitious and grotesque crones of his mothers, strutting peacocks of his successful men, psalm-singing mountebanks of his priests, and Barnum and Bailey side-shows of his religion' . . . In an analysis of the depiction of blacks in wartime movies in 1943, (OWI's Bureau of Motion Pictures) . . . concluded that 'in general, Negroes are presented as basically different from other people, as taking no relevant part in the life of the nation, as offering nothing, contributing nothing, expecting nothing.' Blacks appeared in 23 percent of the films released in 1942 and early 1943 and were shown as 'clearly inferior' in 82 percent of them . . . The biased portrayals undermined black war morale at home and hurt America's image abroad." "A Columbia University study in 1945 found that of 100 black appearances in wartime films, 75 perpetuated old stereotypes, 13 were neutral, and only 12 were positive."
In 1957, however, Harry Belafonte " . . . became the first black matinee idol . . . " On the other hand, " . . . when he played Joan Fontaine's love interest in Island in the Sun, (1957) Darryl Zanuck refused to allow them to kiss, insisting that no scene demanded it." As noted earlier, in 1963 " . . . the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) . . . threw the full strength of its national organization into the fight against racial bias in movies with threats of mass demonstrations and economic and legal offensives." Unfortunately, the effort had little lasting effect.
The following year, The Horror of Party Beach (1964) included a stereotypical portrayal of a " . . . black maid (Eulabelle Moore) who keeps repeating 'It's da voodoo' and thus . . . " according to film critic Steven Scheuer, " . . . undoes decades of work by the NAACP." The film was directed by Del Tenney. The Take (1974) starred Eddie Albert, Billy Dee Williams and Vic Morrow in the story of " . . . a semi-crooked black cop who accepts bribes but won't take any guff from the syndicate kingpin ruling the local ghetto." (Robert Hartford-Davis-Director).
Paramount's film White Dog was " . . . completed in 1982 (but) . . . was withheld from domestic release, mostly due to pressure from NAACP leaders, who felt the film promoted racism." The film " . . . concerns a German shepherd trained to attack blacks . . . " Apparently " . . . there have been and perhaps still are some real white dogs, which is truly appalling, but . . . " according to this Hollywood Reporter, " . . . this 'White Dog,' other than bringing this truth out in the open, is much less powerful than the bigotry that inspired it."
A subsequent movie co-produced and directed by Steven Spielberg The Color Purple presented on screen " . . . Alice Walker's raw, angry, black coming-of-age story set in the first half of this century. The 1985 movie was simplistic, critics felt, overlaid with a pretty, Hollywood gloss." Regardless of what the critics say, would this movie have been made without Steven Spielberg? But, even more important, would the movie have been made differently if a black man or woman had been its director? This raises the question of whether the film industry is guilty of imposing a cultural bias on its interpretation of the human experience.
Movie critic Roger Ebert says that Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing (1989) " . . . comes closer to reflecting the current state of race relations in America than any other movie of our time." This comment by Ebert confirms the position of all interest groups who have been consistently excluded from the inner circles of decision-making in Hollywood, in that it says if you want a fairly accurate portrayal of such a group in a given movie, the picture should be made by members of that group; a statement which on the flip side points up the central defect of the present Hollywood system which is controlled by a small group of Jewish males of a European heritage who are, as a general rule, politically liberal and not very religious (again, see analysis in Who Really Controls Hollywood). By the very nature of modern film, it is virtually impossible for any such narrowly-defined cultural group to accurately interpret and portray other cultures. That does not keep the Hollywood filmmakers from trying, however. In 1991, The Samuel Goldwyn Co. released Straight Out of Brooklyn, which according to the Hollywood Reporter, " . . . offers a close-up look at the lives and aspirations of African-Americans sentenced to inner-city tenement dwelling . . . (and) a deep family crisis climax in a botched crime." Also, in 1991Boyz n the Hood (Columbia Pictures) is a " . . . depiction of young black male survival in South Central Los Angeles." The film traces " . . . the growth of one bright black boy . . . from elementary school to his senior year in high school in 1991 (by providing) . . . a portrait of (the) minute-by-minute struggle as . . . (he) must endure not only the common adolescent hangups but . . . keep from being gunned down."
Meanwhile, that same year, former Secretary of the Army Clifford Alexander told a U.S. Senate panel probing the problems of black males in 1991 that "[n]egative images of blacks are fed by portrayals of blacks in movies, television and elsewhere . . . " Also, in 1991, the Coalition Against Media Racism in America issued a statement that [the movies] . . . Jungle Fever and . . . Boyz n the Hood are among the features targeted for a boycott called by [that] . . . coalition of diverse mainstream black groups . . . [who claimed that] films perpetuate black stereotypes . . . " Of course, the claim is accurate, but it takes more than protest by a single group to influence Hollywood.
As 1992 got underway, the film Trespass (a Universal release) starred rappers Ice-T and Ice Cube " . . . as gang members out to defend their terrain . . . " Pierce O'Donnell and Dennis McDougal subsequently quoted Eddie Murphy in 1992, saying, that a " . . . lot of blacks feel [the studios] don't want blacks to be portrayed as sexual on film . . . " That same year, a considerable amount of tension on the set was generated during the production of Disney's Sister Act. Star Whoppi Goldberg was reportedly " . . . upset by what she calls 'stereotypical' dialogue and a scene that called for her character to steal . . . " Goldberg also said " . . . Disney treated her 'like a nigger' and (in response) she printed up blackface Mickey Mouse T-shirts reading 'Niggerteer' for the cast and crew."
In an interview appearing in the Josephson Institute's Ethics magazine (1993) Dr. Prothnow-Stith stated: "I think that when you are only using characters of color, black or Hispanic, to depict negative influences or stereotypical influences, when you fail to use [them] to represent everyday characters you are contributing to an over-burdened situation, a group overburdened with stereotyped images . . . There's a willingness to portray the negativeness in an 'other' whether that person is 'other' by race or by gender. The danger in that is you make me and my community more of an 'other' for the rest of America."
Dr. Prothnow-Stith went on to state that " . . . as an African-American Protestant, I was particularly offended by the genre of movies that made buffoons of black preachers. Knowing the black church as critical to liberation in this country, knowing black preachers who run the gamut, including intellectual people, I was offended by this kind of regular portrayal." Dr. Prothnow- Stith went on to get at the heart of the problem by pointing out: " . . . I never saw a movie where a rabbi was a buffoon character."
Despite those comments, the treatment of African-Americans by Hollywood did not seem to improve in 1993. The Amos & Andrew movie told the story about "[u]pper-crust types [who] spot a black man . . . in one of their town's palatial homes and assume he's a robber . . . " Film critic Roger Ebert calls the film " . . . a comedy about a wealthy African-American playwright who is mistaken for a burglar simply because he is black . . . " Ebert says the " . . . movie is trying to use this basic set up to say that we " . . . cannot judge a man by the color of his skin . . . " As Variety reports, however, the movie, in effect " . . . attempts a satire of contemporary racism that employs strictly stereotyped characters and typecast actors." Obviously, when it comes to the consistent use of negative and stereotypical portrayals in movies about others, that small group of Jewish males of European heritage who control Hollywood simply do not get it.
Native Americans--Although a few somewhat more sympathetic portrayals in movies have occurred in recent years, American Indians have long been victims of the Hollywood stereotype. By 1964, Marlon Brando was making apppearances at protests on behalf of American Indians. In 1973, when he won the Best Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of Vito Corleone, he "...sent an Indian woman named Sacheen Littlefeather to reject the award, saying he could not accept it 'because of the treatment of American Indians in the motion picture industry, on TV, in the movie reruns and the recent happenings at Wounded Knee.'"
On the other hand, two more recent films, serve as examples of a change in Hollywood's portrayals of native Americans. Joe Roth's Young Guns (Morgan Creek-1988) graphically throws in the theme of mistreatment of native Americans as the cowboy/outlaw gang member Lou Diamond Phillips describes how his mother, family and tribe were slaughtered by white men. Also, Dances With Wolves (1990) " . . . is ostensibly about the nobility of the Sioux; even more, however, it's about how noble (Kevin) Costner's Lt. Dunbar is for recognizing the nobility of the Sioux." On the other hand, Peter Ranier asks, " . . . why hasn't anybody cared, in this supposedly pro-Indian movie, how horribly the rival Pawnee Nation is portrayed? These whooping, scalping heathen look like punksters out of The Road Warrior." This is a movie where " . . . New Age meets Old Hollywood."
Even as recently as 1992, however, native American spokesperson Russell Means, in an Entertainment Weekly article, criticized Hollywood's depiction of Native Americans, from the films of the '40s to The Last of the Mohicans. In the same article, Means said the " . . . educational system of the dominant culture doesn't let our children know that American Indians existed in the 20th century." He went on to say that "[t]here's a danger in letting Hollywood define us." Of course, there is a danger in letting any narrowly defined interest group use a powerful communications meduium to define any of us.
As George Fraser points out, a " . . . stranger with no knowledge of U. S. history save what he got from films . . . would be puzzled at the change in status of the Indians, from the perpetual enemy, a mixture of noble savages and murderin' red varmints, into oppressed and cheated defenders of a precious culture--the conflicting images are all true, but the fashionable viewpoint has changed."