Tim McSorley in the political art journal Art Threat:
Aladdin. Back to the Future. True Lies. It isn’t everyday that you hear these three movies mentioned in the same breath, but for Dr. Jack Shaheen the link is clear. For thirty years, Shaheen, professor emeritus of mass communication at Southern Illinois University, has been studying the misrepresentation of Arabs and Muslims in film, particularly movies coming out of Hollywood. His conclusion: that Arabs and Muslims are the single most maligned and attacked group in the history of film. “If the case went before a jury, they’ll be out for 30 seconds and they will agree,” he says over the phone from his home in Illinois. Over the next few months, viewers can be will be the jury themselves as Shaheen tours North America with Reel Bad Arabs, the 2006 documentary based on his 2001 book of the same name.
While it’s a pretty sweeping judgment to make – there are plenty of racial, religious or political groups that would argue they’ve been consistently misrepresented by Hollywood – Shaheen backs up his claims with plenty of proof. Reel Bad Arabs, both film and book, are the result of nearly 20 years work, during which Shaheen viewed and analysed 950 films. Of those, only 5 percent showed Arabs of Muslims in a positive – or at least benign – light. “No one group has ever been, one, vilified in that many films, and two, vilified for more than a century,” he explains.