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Reel Bad Arabs

How Hollywood Vilifies a People

Reel Bad Arabs

Duration: 50 min
ISBN: 1-932869-00-X
Date Produced: 2006
Subtitles: English & Arabic

Filmmaker Info
Study Guide
Press Room
Film Festivals
Press Reviews
Praise for the Film

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Reel Bad Arabs
How Hollywood Vilifies a People

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 U.S. 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.

Sections: Introduction | Myths of Arabland | The Arab Threat: Mideast Politics & Hollywood | Terror Inc.: Demonizing Palestinians & Muslims | The Only Good Arab... | Islamophobia | Getting Real

Due to a gift from a generous donor, MEF is able to offer subsidized prices to high schools ($10), public libraries ($10), and college Communication or Journalism departments ($50). High schools and public libraries, please log in to see discounted price. Communication and Journalism departments, please call 413.584.8500 or email for details.

Jack Shaheen

Shaheen's lectures and writings illustrate that damaging racial and ethnic stereotypes injure innocent people. Dr. Shaheen, an Oxford Research Scholar, is the recipient of two Fulbright teaching awards. He has appeared on national network programs such as CNN, MSNBC, National Public Radio, Nightline, Good Morning America, 48 Hours, and The Today Show. Shaheen has served as a consultant with film and TV companies: DreamWorks, Warner Brothers, Hanna-Barbera, and Showtime.

Filmmaker Info

Director: Sut Jhally
Producer: Jeremy Earp
Post-Production Supervisor: Andrew Killoy
Editors: Sut Jhally, Andrew Killoy, Mary Patierno
Additional Editing: Jeremy Smith
Sound Engineering: Peter Acker, Armadillo Audio Group
Media Research & Collection: Kenyon King, Bathsheba Ratzkoff
Subtitling: Jason Young
Arabic Translation: Huda Yehia, The Translation Center at the University of Massachusets
Graphic Designer: Shannon McKenna
Additional Motion Graphics: Janet Brockelhurst
Production Assistant: JAson Young
DVD Authoring: Andrew Killoy, Jeremy Smith
Additional Footage Provided by: Mary Patierno, The Newsmarket

Film Festivals

Official Selection, 2009 Cinemateket, Norwegian Film Institute
Official Selection, 2009 Chicago Arabesque
Official Selection, 2009 Arab Film Festival, Calgary
Official Selection, 2008 Palestinian Film Festival, Sydney
Official Selection, 2008 Nazariya Films for PEACE Festival
Official Selection, 2008 One World Berlin Film Festival
Official Selection, 2008 Mostra Mundo Arabe de Cinema
Official Selection, 2008 Festival del integracion de Valencia
Official Selection, 2008 Our Island, Our World Film Film Festival
Official Selection, 2008 Adelaide Festival of Arts
Official Selection, 2007 Arabian Sights Film Festival
Official Selection, 2007 Arab Film Festival
Official Selection, 2007 Cinema East Film Festival
Official Selection, 2007 Date Palm Film Festival
Official Selection, 2007 Brisbane International Film Festival
Official Selection, 2007 Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival
Official Selection, 2007 National Conference for Media Reform
Official Selection, 2006 Dubai International Film Festival

Conference Screenings

21st Annual Students of Color Conference | Yakima, WA | April 14-16, 2011

Press Reviews


The Eastern Echo | Katie Milewski | January 26, 2011

Zaman | Ekram Dumanli | January 24, 2009

The Daily Star, Lebanon | Jim Quilty | April 30, 2008

NPR | Neda Ulaby | February 4, 2008

Democracy Now! | Amy Goodman | October 19, 2007

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs | Pat McDonnell Twair | September/October 2007

Washington Post | William Booth | June 23, 2007

Montreal Mirror| Samer Elatrash | March 22-28, 2007

Art Threat | Tim McSorley | March 9, 2007

On The Media | February 2, 2007

Al Jazeera | Motez Bishara | December 18, 2006

Praise for the Film

"Jack Shaheen is a one-man anti-defamation league who has exposed Hollywood's denigration of Arabs in most, if not all, of its films."
- Helen Thomas | Distinguished Journalist and Author

"Jack Shaheen continues to be a piercing laser of fairness and sanity in pointing out Hollywood's ongoing egregious smearing of Arabs."
- Howard Rosenberg | Los Angeles Times TV Critic

"This taut, well-argued analysis of ethnicity betrayed shows us the power of Hollywood's movies to miseducate the senses-and, since the senses are its gateways, to distort the soul."
- Camelia Anwar Sadat

"Timely and salutary ... highly recommended for all public and academic libraries."
- Library Journal

"Jack G. Shaheen has long been a prophet in the Hollywood wilderness, writing from carefully documented scholarship that exposes the film industry's negative portrayals of Arabs and Muslims."
- James M. Wall | Senior Contributing Editor, The Christian Century

"An excellent starting point for discussions about media representations of race, gender, and religion, the relationship between politics and entertainment media, and the effects of stereotyping."
- Journalism History

"How can one ignore this thesis given the accumulative impact of the compiled images coupled with Dr. Shaheen's commentary? Very impressive work."
- Janice Welsch | Professor Emeritus, Western Illinois University | Co-author, Multicultural Films: A Resource Guide

"Jack Shaheen exposes in appalling detail this nightmare side of the Hollywood dream machine."
- Christopher Dickey | Author, Innocent Blood | Middle East Editor Newsweek Magazine

"The relentless cinematic assault on Arabs has been our culture's most insidious yet closeted disgrace-until now. [Reel Bad Arabs] casts a penetrating spotlight on the movies that have shaped our infinitely distorted and warped views of Arab and Muslim life."
- Renee Tajima-Pena | Producer-Director, Sundance Award-Winning Film, My America

"It came as quite a shock to suddenly recognize a form of racial stereotyping that is so widespread-yet somehow invisible-and almost as old as the cinema itself. Dr. Shaheen carefully documents an astonishing array of Arab villains, sheikhs, and maidens. Highly recommended!"
- John Skillin | Director, Audio Visual Services, Montclair Public Library

"Reel Bad Arabs performs an invaluable service by visually demonstrating the sheer volume of unrelenting negative images found in Hollywood films... Shaheen stresses that Hollywood's Arab images now seriously interfere with the ability of Americans to think rationally about the Middle East. Jack Shaheen says, "Enough." No sane person could disagree."
- Cineaste

"For years, with rare passion and eloquence, Jack Shaheen has raised a constant, resonating voice on behalf of the Arab in America. An undaunted warrior devoted to righting the wrongs of distortion that have too long persisted, Shaheen has displayed unwavering dedication to the cause of fair play for ethnic groups who have suffered from misrepresentation by our film industry-Arabs most of all. For his courage in protecting the integrity of an entire people against the tides of prejudice in American mass culture, we are all deeply in his debt."
- Asaad Kelada | Director

"Calm, measured, fair, even-handed, and compassionate. A powerful and important film that validates the human dignity of Arabs and Muslims."
- Laurence Michalak | Director of CEMAT, the Overseas Research Center in Tunisia of the American Institute of Maghreb Studies

"... A well conceived and constructed documentary... This film raises a number of important issues around stereotypes that would prove valuable as discussion in media, film and cultural studies courses. Recommended."
- Educational Media Reviews Online

"One of the major benefits of the film -- and certainly, of Shaheen's approach -- is to encourage students to take their popular culture seriously and to help them recognize how easily political perspectives can be embedded into what seems to be a pure entertainment... Ours is a culture which truly needs to recognize how stereotypes are perpetuated. Almost all minority groups -- Black, Asians, gays and lesbians, Hispanics -- are examined by scholars in terms of how American popular culture stereotypes them. Often missing is a discussion of the ramifications of this stereotyping. Reel Bad Arabs does both: it explains what the stereotypes are and it challenges viewers to recognize what stereotyping can do.
- Teaching Sociology

"... A skillfully articulated and illustrated explanation of how Hollywood and the mass media stereotypes 1.6 billion Muslims by depicting them as Arab terrorists. The documentary earns a 9.6 on a scale of 10 for meeting or exceeding multicultural educational standards in terms of expressing social conditions, engaging dialogue, self-reflection, transformational education, and the mechanics of cinematography, pacing, sound, music, and editing."
- International Journal of Multicultural Education

"The documentary successfully illustrates the racism inherent in blockbuster cinema, by using popular filmic examples to ensure the film's premise resonates with its audience... The film is subdivided into several chapters such as: Myths of Arabland; The Arab Threat: Mideast Politics & Hollywood; Terror Inc. Demonizing Palestinians & Muslims; Islamophohia; and Getting Real. In this way, audiences unfamiliar with visual media studies, or the history of U.S. international relations, receive an introduction into the highly controversial historical relationship between the U.S. and the Middle East."
- Linnea J. Hussein | Columbia University | Film & History

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