The Unfortunate Typecasting of Arabs

Matthew Duss over at American Prospect is upset at the sad typecasting of Arabs in Hollywood films and television programs. He’s absolutely right. They’re typecast as nightclub entertainers, teenage idols, aspiring actresses, cross-dressing Army corporals, 18th century Austrian composers, Roman Catholic nuns, sexpots, and obsessive-compulsive detectives.

There are also the stereotypical characterizations of Arabs as Noble Lords of the Desert as in the rather ridiculous Hidalgo.

My point isn’t that Arabs aren’t being portrayed as Middle Eastern terrorists. Of course they are. Middle Eastern terrorists are much in the news these days and, surprise, most Middle Eastern terrorists are Arabs. Go figure. But, as my list above might suggest to you, you can cherry pick the data any way you want to.

It is also true that while most Arabs aren’t terrorists most of the terrorists that trouble Americans are. Portraying the guys who perpetrated the attacks on 9/11 as Arabs isn’t prejudiced it’s realistic.

Hollywood deals in stereotypes. It always has and I have no doubt it always will. Irishmen are portrayed as priests, cops, drunks, and prizefighters. Italians as Mafiosi and opera singers. For a while there Japanese men were being stereotyped as masterful businessmen but the decade-long recession in Japan pretty much put an end to that. If there weren’t stereotypical portrayals of priests, cops, drunks, prizefighters, Mafiosi, opera singers, and masterful businessmen in movies, there’d be fewer role for Irish, Italian, and Japanese actors in Hollywood.

Food is food. Working is good.

4 comments… add one
  • Leaving aside the portrayal issue, what the bloody fuck do your links have to do with the portrayal of Arabs (as Arabs)? Arab American actors of obscure ethnic identity playing roles really has fuck all to do with the compliant (valid or not). Your list is … well bloody well irrelevant.

    Legit point in re terrorists, but no doubt if one carries the ethnicity, it can get tiresome. Indeed I do recall Americans of Italian descent in the NY area got right sick of the whole mob thing.

  • No, it’s not irrelevant. For Americans the best possible circumstance is for people just to be treated as people. If Arab identity is first, then people should get used to the roles in which Arab identity is first.

    Those will inevitably be cartoonish stereotypes, both positive and negative.

    The truth of the treatment of Arabs by Hollywood is that for quite a while now (40-50 years) they’ve had greater visibility and more jobs than their numbers in the population would suggest. In my view that’s a credit to the good looks, brains, energy, and talent of the Arabs who have come here. I think it may also be at least partially because in Hollywood “exotic” is good. No, Arab identity has not been front and center. But that’s the American way. If you want to be your ethnicity first you’re going to be pigeonholed.

  • tribalecho Link

    Hi. Like your stuff. Sorta left, but none the less…….

  • This is positively one of the stupidest things you’ve ever written.

    Arab American actors who are not in the least bit identifiable as “Arabs” mean absolutely fucking nothing to the question you’re addressing – not for the positive nor for the negative.

    Pale skinned European – Mediterranean looking Lebanese who play Italians etc. says nothing about the compliant about how “Arabs” as such are portrayed “as Arabs” on screen. Don’t be a bloody retard.

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