Examples of Muslim misrepresentation are evident throughout different types of media production, including children’s cartoons such as ‘Aladdin’ and Oscar-winning movies like ‘Argo’ where Muslims are associated with terms such as extremism, terrorism, despotism and sexism.
Those misrepresentations are deeply motivated by US politics and literally influenced by the US Department of Defense which has its own entertainment liaisons. Mark Harris, the author of a book on Hollywood-military partnership, mentions that the most that happens is favorite rating. You get access to military equipment in return for a favorable portrayal. Even the CIA has its own entertainment liaisons.
Hollywood movies have long been instilling in the American psyche a fear of Islam, portraying the holy religion as tantamount to terrorism. For instance, the Arabic phrase 'Allāhu Akbar' meaning 'The God is (the) greatest' has always been associated with terrorists when blowing people up.
Below, we have looked at a small slice of the countless examples of Muslim stereotyping shown in Hollywood films:
In this American children’s movie, many good characters have American English accents and Western facial features, while the bad ones are portrayed as sinister and exotic brutes with foreign accents.
In the opening scene of ‘Aladdin’, song lyrics reflect a view of the Muslim world as a distant, savage place:
I come from a land,
From a faraway place,
Where the caravan camels roam.
Where they cut off your ear
If they don't like your face.
It's barbaric, but hey, it's home.
A blatant example of the manifestation of Islamophobia in American films is political thriller ‘Argo’ by Ben Affleck. It is set in Iran during the 1979 Takeover of US Embassy. In her piece titled ‘Islamophobia and Hollywood: A Brief History’, American journalist and author Sarah Britton Miller argues that, “In 'Argo', Iranians are primarily portrayed as a mass of violent religious fanatics. Regular citizens are given the dehumanization treatment–wide angle camera shots that reduce the Iranian person to a mob of indistinguishable faces speaking untranslated Farsi.”
She further adds that, “In contrast, American characters are the main subjects of close-up shots, character development, emotion, and intelligible speech. It reeks of ethnocentrism.”
Zero Dark Thirty (2012):
Perhaps, the most egregious display of Islamophobia in Hollywood is ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ about the hunt and capture of Osama Bin Laden. Throughout the film, Muslims are portrayed as evil terrorists who are intent on pulling down America and hiding Bin Laden. The film also justifies the usage of torture and violence against Muslims as well. Kathryn Bigelow’s film makes Muslims, not just Osama bin Laden, the enemies to the United States, and conveys the idea that it is our duty as Americans to glorify this animosity.
American Sniper (2014):
Clint Eastwood over-simplified the Iraq occupation and bathed the U.S. military in a glowing light of moral ambiguity. American journalist Matt Taibbi calls the film “almost too dumb to criticize.” But, the most troubling thing about this movie is probably its normalization of Islamophobia.
Now the question is how it is even possible for such treatment not to lead to prejudice and irrational fear in a country where movies can have widespread influence? When was the last time there was an Arab hero in a Hollywood movie? It seems that there is a long way for the negative stereotypes of Arab and non-Arab Muslims to wither way; and for many of us, we are comfortable with our prejudices. We do not want to change. We have grown accustomed to this face.