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Waltzing with Hollywood racism
By Ray Hanania — This week again reminds us of the power of Hollywood to do good and evil. Even during the political talk show discussions, talk of President Obama’s stimulus package and Israel’s deep dive to the far right are pausing to allow banter about who will win the Oscars. Although Hollywood movies sound trivial in the context of the death and destruction throughout the world, it is not and is in fact a driver of that destruction. More importantly, the stereotypes it propagates are embraced willingly by the lemming-like public of the Western World, including in America.
As an American Arab, I have only one concern when asking which film will win: Will it be a film that hates Arabs? Or, a film that hates Arabs?
You didn’t misread anything. It’s the same question because Hollywood is the capitol of Western racism and bigotry. Even in many Third World countries, Hollywood films are allowed to reinforce stereotypes, forcing victims to accept the racism in the world around them.
Hollywood’s hatred against Arabs and Muslims hasn’t changed since the day Vanessa Redgrave courageously flashed “the bird” at the bigots and haters at the Academy Awards in 1977, particularly those who blindly support Israel and defend it against all criticism — criticism that is sometimes excessive and anti-Semitic, but also criticism that is justified and rarely allowed to be aired.
Redgrave had won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for a gripping portrayal of a Nazi fighter in “Julia,” and thanked the Academy in her speech despite “the threats of a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums” who were outside threatening to kill her. Those hoodlums were members of the terrorist organization “the Jewish Defense League.”
Redgrave was booed and jeered and the racist leading the assault was the late Paddy Chayefsky whose film “Network” was one of the most virulently anti-Arab films to come from Hollywood’s bile.
Chayefsky, naturally, was applauded and hailed when he incredulously declared he was “tired” of people coming to Hollywood and the Oscars’ stage. He declared, “I am sick and tired of people exploiting the Academy Awards for the propagation of their own personal propaganda.”
And then Chayefsky and the rest of the Hollywood Hoodlum Hypocrites cheered on a litany of awards to films that precisely “propagated their own personal propaganda” against victims like the Palestinians and Native Americans.
Chayesky was an anti-Semite himself. Although Chayefsky was Jewish, anti-Semitism is a plague whose victims are also Christian and Muslim Arab Semites, too.
Not much has changed since Chayefsky’s hateful outburst against Redgrave. But some doors have been pushed open. There are some films now that shatter racism’s glass ceiling, using the power of film to bring the truth and tragedy of victims to the public.
Last year, the makers of “American East” couldn’t get one American theater to show their film, which depicts the post-Sept. 11, 2001 terrorism in a full context. American Arabs and Muslims have been the victim of September 11, too, a terrorism driven by haters and fanatics in American society who use the destruction of the World Trade Centers to drive their own hate. The truth is still just too much in America for theater owners to take.
“American East” was recently released on DVD, produced by Sayed Badreya, Ahmad Zahra and Hesham Issawi and starring many including Tony Shalhoub.
Badreya, Zahra, Issawi and Shalhoub and doing much to work from within the system to make it better.
“American East” is a powerful film that every American should watch in order to better educate themselves about the reality of the world around them. But most won’t because the Hollywood powers-that-be discourage truth and propagate lies that play into the more profitable industry of stereotyping.
It’s not just Arabs breaking through. Greeks and Indians are also. But it’s hard work. This year’s “Slumdog Millionaire,” a film about the life and hopes of the poor in Mumbai (Bombay) India, is one of them.
And there is another that at least tries. “Waltzing with Bashir” is an animated film produced by two former Israeli soldiers who participated in the massacre of thousands of Palestinian civilians at the Sabra and Shatilla Refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982.
The killings of the women, children and babies was done by the Lebanese Christian Phalangists, who were angry that their leader, Bashier Gemayal, had been assassinated.
But the Phalangists couldn’t have massacred those innocent children on their own and they had the backing of Ariel Sharon, whose Israeli military surrounded the camp and made it possible.
The nominated film is an effort by the two soldiers to come to grips with the mini-holocaust they helped make happen. But doing it in animation has turned off most Arabs who still live in a world of oppression themselves and are forbidden to think freely by the repressive dictators that rule them. So few Arabs watched the film.
I don’t think animation is the proper way to address the massacres at Sabra and Shatilla, but I do think the film tries to acknowledge, in an indirect way, the Israel’s responsibility. Israelis live in a continual state of denial of their nation’s atrocities against civilians. People who are powerful but claim to be victims often are the biggest bullies and perpetrators of carnage.
I read the script, however, and the comic book released recently. Animation gives the filmmakers the ability to address issues that otherwise would have been impossible, since the film is about bringing out the nightmares that hide in the shadows of their own denial and lost memory of events from 25 years before.
Despite Israel’s atrocity-denial, Yet Ari Folman, one of the two soldiers and the producer of the film, tries as best he can tip-toe to the heart of Israel’s blame.
Animation might be the only way Israelis can ever accept responsibility for their own war crimes and atrocities.
And that might explain why Hollywood accepts this criticism of Israel. First, it is 25 years after-the-fact. Second, it’s not a war crimes deposition, but a backhanded way for Israelis, who as a people and religion have a national inability to say sorry, to acknowledge their clear role in that horrible crime. Sabra and Shatilla may not rival the great holocausts of the world in terms of numbers of civilians killed. But it certainly competes as one of the most immoral, disgusting and indefensible in the past century.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and radio talk show host. He can be reached at www.RadioChicagoland.com and by email 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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