Reel Bad Arabs

What would be the purpose of vilifying a people for more than a century?

Since the early 1900s, Hollywood has consistently portrayed Arabs in a negative light in films and on TV. The author reviewed more than 1000 films — the vast majority of which distorts what Arab men, women and children are really like.

Hollywood’s reel Arab men are brute murderers, lecherous, sleazy rapists, religious fanatics, oil-rich dimwits and abusers of women. Reel Arab women are either abused, exotic belly dancers or relegated to harems.

Caucasian characters in films almost always use degrading names such as “sand niggers”, “filthy beards”, “desert goons”, “low-down bamboozled” and “flea-bitten son of dogs” to refer to Arabs.

Before 9/11, American Arabs were barely visible in films and on TV, and even then, Arab characters are mostly demeaning. Post 9/11, American Arabs are portrayed as disloyal Americans and terrorists.

Disney, which is renowned for its fairy tales films for children, is also complicit in the vilification of Arabs. Especially noteworthy is its not so subtle vilification of Arabs in “Aladin” (listen to the opening song of the film). Disney even resurrected the villain Jafar in “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland”, and of course, there is no heroic Arab character in the film.


For more than a century, Hollywood has used repetition as a teaching tool, tutoring audiences in film after film, insidious images of Arabs, who are consistently portrayed as sub humans. Hollywood has been systematic and unapologetic in its pervasive degradation and dehumanization of Arabs.

Why? When you put the vilification Arabs in the context of what is currently unfolding in the Middle East, perhaps it is not so hard to understand why.

I felt quite amazed while going through the scenes reviewed in this book. The vilification of Arabs is so prevalent that I (and probably most people) hardly notice it any more. But once you’ve become aware, there’s no turning back. To understand Hollywood’s systematic dehumanization of Arabs, get this book from this store or that store.

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