Through a Screen Darkly: Hollywood as a Measure of Discrimination Against Arabs and Muslims
Duke Forum for Law and Social Change, Vol. 2, 2010
22 Pages Posted: 10 May 2010 Last revised: 22 May 2010
Date Written: May 7, 2010
In this essay, which was prepared for the Duke Forum for Law and Social Change’s “The New Face of Discrimination: Muslim in America,” I compare Hollywood’s depiction of Arabs and Muslims in terrorism thrillers before and after the 9/11 attacks. The goal of this comparison is to see whether the increased awareness of Arab and Muslim culture since 9/11 has changed the way that Hollywood depicts Arab and Muslim characters in such television shows and movies. I chose Hollywood as the focus because popular culture both reflects and shapes public attitudes. I reach three conclusions: (1) although 9/11 led to an increase in Arab characters, Arab-American actors have not benefited, perhaps an indication of the problematic depictions of such characters; (2) Hollywood has moved toward creating Arab-American counterterrorism agents, but these characters typically play minor roles that understate the key roles played by some (of the few) real-life Arab-American agents; and (3) the new “sleeper cell” characters – seemingly normal Arab-American characters who secretly plan and execute terrorism plots – who are a post-9/11 development, for the most part overstate the nature of the Arab-Americans who have been prosecuted for terrorism-related offenses in this country.
Keywords: terrorism, 9/11, Arab-Americans, Muslim-Americans, television, movies, discrimination
JEL Classification: K19, K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation