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Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People (2006)

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This groundbreaking documentary dissects a slanderous aspect of cinematic history that has run virtually unchallenged form the earliest days of silent film to today's biggest Hollywood ... See full summary »


Jeremy Earp, Sut Jhally



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Credited cast:
Bo Derek ... (archive footage)
Ana Obregón ... Catalina (archive footage)
Jack Shaheen Jack Shaheen ... Himself - Narrator (as Dr. Jack Shaheen)


This groundbreaking documentary dissects a slanderous aspect of cinematic history that has run virtually unchallenged form 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 US 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 ... Written by MEF

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How Hollywood Vilifies a People







Release Date:

1 November 2006 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Reel Bad Arabs See more »


Box Office


$100,000 (estimated)
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It has a point, but it's poorly executed and rather unnecessary
10 November 2009 | by johnmichael-2See all my reviews

The point of this documentary: Arabs, Palestinians, and Muslims are unfairly portrayed in cinema. Sure. I believe that. But so are most minorities. Everybody knows this.

There are many, many flaws in this documentary. First, it assumes that we are stupid, and that we believe everything Hollywood tells us. Wrong. I am friends with quite a few Muslims, and I don't think they're terrorists. Nor do I watch many movies with Arab stereotypes. In fact, of all the movies cited in the documentary, I've only seen "Aladdin." And when I do see stereotypes, I can differentiate them from real life. This documentary even gives existing examples of positive Arab portrayals in films like "Syriana," "Three Kings," and "Kingdom of Heaven." Gee, how groundbreaking. If Shaheen can find the good Arab roles, then any movie audience can, too. And they can recognize them.

Secondly, this documentary poorly made. "Reel Bad Arabs" is, as another reviewer said, a talking head giving examples. And it's only one talking head. Any work of nonfiction, whether it be a documentary or a news article or a book, cannot survive on one expert opinion alone. And this documentary definitely doesn't. The narrator, Jack Shaheen doesn't even have screen presence. This documentary is just 50 minutes of him whining into a camera in an effort to advertise his book on the same subject.

Thirdly, this movie is unnecessary. Here's the basic point: Some movies stereotype Arabs, but there are also some movies that don't. What Jack Shaheen should have done was just to give us a list of the "bad" movies and a list of the "good" movies and leave it at that. That would have taken two minutes at most, instead of this fifty-minute run-on. We would have been able to figure out what the stereotypes were (once again, we're not stupid), and that the good portrayals were the ones where Arabs acted like actual human beings.

P.S. Did anyone else notice how Shaheen used the original line from "Arabian Nights" (Aladdin)--"Where they cut off your ear/ If they don't like your face"--when nobody sees that version anymore? All video released use the line: "Where it's flat and immense/ And the heat is intense." That controversy was closed off long ago and is now irrelevant. Like the rest of this documentary.

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