06/05/21

The Sickening Portrayal of The Middle East in Hollywood

A true bias against Arabs and the Middle East

an essay by Hala Nasar

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originally published in @netwrk_aus and @netwrk.mag

The lands of poetry, prose, and sesame,

My grandmother’s secret recipes.

The earth of people, cultures, and languages,

And the origins of delectable melodies.

I watch and mourn, why is your content

So Inaccurate, Wicked, and Angry?

I am Offended. Enraged. Insulted.

My people are Tired. Disappointed. Disgruntled.

I know you see them,

The children with golden smiles and golden eyes,

But the golden sand is what stands out to you?

I know you feel it,

The kindness, the love, and the peace

That drove me into the palms of these

Beautiful places. These people, and songs, and traces

Of nothing but the eradication of hate.

Why do you fester so much rage against my people and their sage wisdom, tell me?

 

I have always consumed copious amounts of Western media in TV shows, movies, radio, news, and magazines. So, for as long as I can remember, I watched the Middle East get portrayed in a cynical light, grabbed from the collar, and yanked into the world of Hollywood, where even the bright blue skies were given a permanent orange haze.

The Middle Eastern clichés that are spoon-fed to audiences are the epitome of propaganda that allows Hollywood to skyrocket with its success. It has been shown time and time again how easy it is for the Western media to negatively portray Arabs and their countries, as if our reputation did not matter in the face of entertainment. Not only have Arabs endured decades of systematic racism from Western media outlets, but it has been nastily integrated into the minds of Non-Arab consumers of such media.

As a kid, I did not understand why every Hollywood movie I watched that involved the Middle East heavily implied the presumed filthiness of our lands, with images of obvious demolition and streets drowned in dirt. I observed the blatant rudeness and impertinence these movies forced their "Arab" actors to speak and communicate in, and I took notice of every sky painted with orange and yellow streaks, darkened, ashamed, unlike the reality of the world I live in. My brain was muddled with questions like Who are these people? What are these places? Why is everything so dark? Exaggerated?

When I grew up, and my social circle spread to other roots of the world, I encountered friends and people who wondered with utter confusion and pity whenever I told them where I'm from, "Oh, is it safe there?" "Are the people as dangerous as they are in the movies?" "Oh, wow. I'm sorry."

And then and there, my apparent astonishment stealthily intertwined around every memory that plagued my mind from the draining portrayal of my people in Western media. I am unable to comprehend how the place I call home is something you feel the need to apologize for.

However, the extent of this concerning phenomenon does not end here. In fact, it comes to deal with religious notions as well. The Western misconceptions about the Muslim world and Arab culture are seen frequently in the media. From the desensitized and flawed depiction of war to the transparent Islamophobia, the idea that Western media has of the Middle East is heavily inaccurate. Moreover, Western media fails to recognize the presence of Arab Christians in the Middle East and hence promotes incorrect ideologies to the mass audience they deliver to. Therefore, this illustrates the harmful stereotypes and fallacies that can harm both the Middle East and act as a barrier to the knowledge of people that readily consume this type of media.

Another stereotype that vividly highlights the ignorance of American television is the incorrect display of songs, jokes and accents. Not only does the wrong song choice used or racist jokes made affect Arab culture, but the clear use of the wrong Arab accent is what takes the cake. The image of Arabs in the eyes of Western cinema can eradicate the true and honest reality, and replace it with ignorant stereotypes that leave a dent in the history and lives of Middle Easterners.

 

It feels criminal when Middle Eastern countries are shown in a negative light when in reality, all I feel when I think about my home is the love that plants itself unprovoked in my grandmother's garden. I fail to understand the depth of this spectacle, unwilling to hold itself accountable to the troubles it has caused. If I spent my days talking about the herbs and the birds that dance around my house, it would take years. For the kindness that warms my home lights up the city in shades of bright blue, crushing every false portrayal of my people into the ground and proving that these orange hues are nothing but a saturated filter painted in hopes of bringing justice to the beautiful lands that lay across the Middle East. Alas, all I hope for is when Western cinema falsely portrays the Middle East, there will be people fighting for its history, warmth, and authenticity till they will not have to anymore.