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New film on DVD gives realistic portrayal of Arabs and Muslims
By Ray Hanania — Every child needs a role model. For the most part, role models come from all walks of life, but the most important are those role models we see in Hollywood movies. And not just any role models. We look for “our own.” By that, I mean, Irish kids looked for Irish role models. Jewish kids looked for Jewish role models. Blacks looked for Blacks, Italians for Italians. And just like everyone else, Arab kids look for role models that are Arab, too.
As a child growing up on Chicago’s Southeast Side in the 1950s and 1960s, I had no role models in the mainstream media, and especially none in Hollywood.
The movies were filled with villans and almost every villain was an Arab. The terrorists, the killers, the murderers all looked like they were related to me.
I’d go to the movies with my friends, frightened by the horrific images on the big screen, only to come back to the house and look around the dinner table and see the same faces that Hollywood vilified, exploited and stereotyped.
Other ethnic groups insist what I went through is what every ethnic kid goes through. Really? Well, yes, Italians have terrible images in the Hollywood movies, too. But I noticed that for every mobster who is Italian, there are at least one or two more good characters who are Italian also in the same movie. In other words, it is not the presence of negative images that is the problem.
It is the absence of positive images that IS the problem in American Hollywood movies. Yes, there are lots of negative images of every ethnic group, but there are also lots of positive images of ethnic groups, too, Except for Arab Americans.
In more than 250 movies made by Hollywood that include Middle East related themes or characters who could be surmised or are “Arab” or “Muslim,” only about a handful, maybe five, have positive Arab characters. For years, the only positive Arab character in a movie was Aladdin in the Disney cartoon film and he didn’t even look Arab at all.
Last year, two great Hollywood actors, Hesham Issawi and Sayed Badreya decided to do something that hasn’t been done yet. They wanted to make a Hollywood movie that told a part of the Arab American and Muslim Arab story in a real way. They wanted to portray the reality of the Arab experience in America just the way it really is. And they made the film “American East,” which is featured on the front page of this newspaper.
The problem, of course, is that not one American movie theater would show the film. Not one. Out of tens of thousands of movie theaters, not one could find the courage to show the film to the public. Why?
Was it because the film was filled with foul-mouthed language like nearly every major movie and TV program? Was it because it was more violent than the films that are filled with violent?
No. It made Arabs look normal. It portrayed Arab characters in a normal environment as human beings, like everyone else, who have to deal with the traumas and tragedies of real life.
On Jan. 20th, the film that couldn’t make it into American theaters because it portrays Arabs in a positive and negative light was released on DVD.
I hope you will take the time to buy it. I hope Arab Americans and Muslims will purchase the DVD, not just to enjoy a film that for the first time portrays the reality of Arab American life in the post-Sept. 11, 2001 world, but that does so in a fair and balanced and dramatic and compelling manner.
It’s a GREAT movie.
But buy it also because if you are like me upset with the ugliness that is the stock and trade of the Hollywood movie industry, purchasing it is one way to protest. Make it a success. Share it with your friends and neighbors. Let them see what Hollywood and the mainstream media does not want the world to see, that Arab Americans are no worse, no better and no different than anyone else. We have our bad and our ugly. But we also have our good, our inspirational, our flowers and our beauty.
Is that too much to ask? I don’t think so.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning Arab American columnist and Chicago radio talk show host. He is also the publisher of the National Arab American Times newspaper, www.AATimesNews.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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Hanania loves to write about American Arabs in politics, and focuses on Arab life in America.
Currently, he writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com. He writes on American politics for the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News newspaper and the Reporter Newspapers. He also writes for the online websites TheArabDailyNews.com and NewsAmericaNetwork.com (Illinois News Network at IllinoisNewsNetwork.com).
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Hanania began in journalism as an activist publishing Chicago’s first English-language American Arab Newspaper “The Middle Eastern Voice” from 1975 through 1977. In 1976, he was hired by the Chicago community newspaper The Southtown Economist (Daily Southtown) and in 1985 was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times and covered Chicago City Hall for both. In 1993, he launched the “The Villager” Newspapers which covered 12 Southwest Chicagoland suburban regions. In 2004, he published “The National Arab American Times” monthly newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East ethnic food stores in 48 American States.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
Hanania’s writings have been published in newspapers around the world. Formerly syndicated by Creators Syndicate, Hanania also has written news, features and Opinion Columns for Al Jazeera English, the Jerusalem Post, YNetNews.com, Arab News, Saudi Gazette, Newsday in New York, the Orlando Sentinel, the Houston Chronicle, The Daily Star, the News of the World, the Daily Yomimuri in Tokyo, Chicago Magazine, the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, and Aramco Magazine. His political columns are published in the Southwest News-Herald and Des Plaines Valley News, Regional News and Palos Reporter newspapers in Chicagoland. Hanania is the President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media and public affairs consulting which has clients in Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Washington D.C.
Hanania is Palestinian Christian from prominent Bethlehem and Jerusalem families. His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.
His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania
Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com
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