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Dubai Festival has a role in improving portrayal of Arabs

Dubai Film Festival a Vital Platform in Improving Portrayal of Arabs, Muslims in Mainstream Cinema, Says US Expert

Negative stereotypes unchanged since 9/11, according to Arab-American scholar

Dubai, December 5, 2005 – The Dubai International Film Festival can play an integral role in shattering the negative stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims that permeate mainstream American cinema, the world’s leading authority on media stereotyping of Arabs and Muslims has said.

Dr. Jack Shaheen, author of the award-winning books Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People; Arab and Muslim Stereotyping in American Popular Culture; Nuclear War Films; and The TV Arab, said the Festival and its focus on bridging cultures is a vital asset in the struggle to connect East and West and the imagemakers from both sides.

“The Dubai Film Festival, and its emphasis on cultural bridges, is not a good idea but a great one,” Dr. Shaheen said. “Imagemakers respect other imagemakers, and Dubai’s festival enables artists worldwide to meet and exchange thoughts on a much-needed personal and professional level. Bridge building begins with respect, and this festival provides each participant and guest with an opportunity to embrace and respect each other. We hate what we don’t know, but once we know an individual or group or religion we once feared, our prejudices evaporate.”

The Festival’s twin strategies of engaging international imagemakers and building the Arab filmmaking community by offering young Arabs the tools, expertise and venue to create and showcase their own features and shorts are on the right track, he added.

“Both bases need to be covered,” Dr. Shaheen said. “You can’t accomplish one without the other. Filmmakers with Arab roots need the support given them by the Festival. The Festival organizers are meeting, in a sense, Hollywood ‘on its own ground’.”

Although many of the stereotyping emerges from mainstream Hollywood cinema, it is crucial that the larger Arab world stays aware of it and works to counter it, he added.

“If people say this is a problem caused by Hollywood, and only affects those who live in the States, that’s nonsense,” he said. “Unfortunately, these powerful stereotypes injure innocent people and have a terrible impact on our society. America is the world’s leading exporter of movies – reaching more than 150 nations worldwide. We have to remember that Hollywood’s reel Arab terrorists prowl movie screens and television sets from Iceland to Indonesia nonstop.”

“What should be done after the festival is as important if not more important than what happens during the festival,” he added. “Namely, an intelligent and practical plan needs to be in place to lobby those Hollywood producers who sincerely care about – and who are in a position to – shattering stereotypes.”

Dr. Shaheen, whose writings also include contributions to such influential publications as Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and a number of college textbooks, also serves as a consultant for the United Nations, the United States Information Agency, and a number of television and motion picture companies. He recently finished consulting on George Clooney’s upcoming drama Syriana, filmed partly in Dubai, and is putting the finishing touches on a documentary version of Reel Bad Arabs.

Festival Director and CEO Neil Stephenson said Dr. Shaheen’s vote of confidence in DIFF was a significant boost for the Festival and its goals, and a reminder of how much work remains to be done in bridging the divide between East and West.

“We are delighted to receive a seal of approval from an internationally renowned expert like Dr. Shaheen, particularly given the nature of what we are trying to achieve here at DIFF,” Stephenson said. “It is unfortunate that Dr. Shaheen’s schedule precludes him from joining us at the Festival this year, but we are already looking forward to his participation next year. We at DIFF are big fans of Jack Shaheen and we hope to screen his movie “Reel Bad Arabs” when it is completed as it will fit well with our “Operation Cultural Bridge” program.”

More than 60 big-budget movies produced post 9/11 – including Four Feathers, Hidalgo, Air Marshal and Team America World Police – display the same stereotypes as the industry’s pre-9/11 films, Dr. Shaheen added. But there is also some good news.

“Some film producers, notably Ridley Scott in his Kingdom of Heaven, presented humane portraits,” Dr. Shaheen said. “Jodie Foster’s Flightplan is to be commended for exposing and contesting prejudices. In the Al Pacino film The Recruit, the CIA protagonist turns out to be an Arab-American woman; and viewers will be impressed with the images projected in Syriana.”


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