Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People (2006)

A review by Shlomoh Sherman
June 30, 2016

Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People (2006)
Directors: Jeremy Earp, Sut Jhally
Writers: Jeremy Earp, Jack Shaheen
Star: Jack Shaheen
Plot Summary: This groundbreaking documentary dissects a slanderous aspect of cinematic history that has run virtually unchallenged form the earliest days of silent film to today's biggest Hollywood hit movies.
Plot Keywords: arab - sheikh - bedouin - arabian prince - abu ghraib - Islamophobia
Taglines: How Hollywood Vilifies a People
Genres: Documentary - History - War
Parents Guide: Parental discretion advised due to violence and some adult themes
Country: USA
Language: English
Release Date: November 1, 2006 (USA)
Box Office:
Budget: $100,000 (estimated)
Company Credits:
Production Co: Media Education Foundation
Show detailed company contact information on IMDbPro »
Runtime: 50 min (original release)
Color: Color


Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People.

This film comes to us as a one-sided look at Hollywood's depiction of Arabs, and its plays out in front of the images of ongoing war and conflict in the Middle East, the constant fear of terrorism, and the memories of September 11.

While watching it, I took extensive notes and am presenting them here initially without comment. My feelings about the film will follow.

According to the narrator of the film, Jack Shaheen, Arabs are the most maligned ethnic group in Hollywood films. They are described as virtually sub-human. These images have been with us for more than a century with a consistent pattern of hatred. Arabs are constantly pictured as villains. These images are repeated over and over and mainly in the context of deadly violence and hostage taking.

25% of Hollywood movies slur Arabs as villains or stupid incompetents who are the objects of cheap jokes.


We have inherited our ideas of Arabland from Europeans, mainly British and French, who colonized Arabland and gave us their negative views and images. With these views and images, Arabs are "the Oriental Other." Arabland is a fictional theme park into which you step back 2000 years. Arabland is filled with ominous music, threatening deserts, palaces with torture dungeons, and harem woman who so displease the Shiek that he feels it necessary to abduct blond western woman whom he will ravish.


Arabland comes complete with the Ali Baba Kit which contains: belly dancers, scimitars, magic carpets, and snake charmers

And yesterday's Arabland is still today's Arabland.

Arabland is also fed to children by way of animated movies.

ALADIN - this Disney all-time favorite movie contains all the Arab stereotypes; the movie opens with an Arab singing, "They cut off your ears if they don't like your face. It's barbaric but hey - it's home."

When Arabs are not portrayed as evil thretening demons, they may be portrayed as buffoons made to deliver cheap laughs such as the Arab who threatens Indiana Jones with a scimitar only to get shot down by him.

THE HAPPY HOOKER - This hooker, played by Joey Heatherton, says she was abducted by Arabs and forced to perform "unspeakable acts with circumcized dogs." We then hear the Arab to whom she is speaking remark, like a buffoon, "At least dogs are better than pigs. They are cleaner."

CANNON BALL TWO - portrays rich and stupid oversexed Arab buffoons, obsessed with blond America women.

JEWEL OF THE NILE - an oversexed, lecherous Omar Sharif captures and imprisons Kathleen Turner when she looked good. You know THAT film is dated.

NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN - James Bond's girl, Kim Bassinger, is bound and abused by a sleezy Arab.

SAHARA - poor Brooke Shields has to fight off the advances of a lecherous Arab shiek.

CHAPTER TWO - Neil Simon's 1979 autobio opens with the protagonist's return from London. His brother asks "How was London?" to which he replies, "Full of Arabs." We wonder what would the audience reaction be had he said, "Full of Jews, full of blacks, full of Hispanics."

FATHER OF THE BRIDE 2 - Disney again. Steve Martin sells his home to a sleezy Arab and suffers hunilation as a result. No Father Of The Bride with Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor ever mentioned Arabs.

GLADIATOR - the slave traders who capture Russel Crowe are Arabs. After all, Arabs were the ones who captured and sold blacks to America.

BACK TO THE FUTURE - Lybian terrorists try to gun down the protagonist. here, as in Gladiator, Arabs are brought in when these films have nothing to do with the Middle East.

NETWORK - Howard Beale not only tells his fans to shout that they are mad as hell and are not going to take it anymore but he also announces that the Arabs are buying up America. "Soon, we won't own our country any longer. The Middle Easterers will own it."

DIRTY MOVIE - This is a film that is one politically incorrect joke after another. One of the film makers says, "You know we got lots of Arab jokes." To which the other film maker responds, "Of course we got Arab jokes. Telling Arab jokes is an American patriotic duty."

Washington and Hollywood are partners in demonizing poor Palestinians.

EXODUS and CAST A GIANT SHADOW - both films portray Jews as innocent victims of the the most viscious Palestinians. These are poor refugee Palestinians. Who made them refugees? Surely they did it to themselves when they rejected peace with the Jewish State.

Palestinian Women
Now Arab women are not only belly dancers; they are terrorists

BLACK SUNDAY - Here, the terrorist is a woman whom the Israeli officer allows to live simply because of her gender. But his being a gentleman does not stop her from committing the most viscious of murderers. In the end, the same officer finally meets up with her and, with a smile, guns her down.


During the 1980s, Washington's policies encouraged Hollywood to produce 30 films showing Palestinians hurting Americans. There are no humanizing Palestinians shownn. We never see Palestinians suffering and victimized by Israelis.

DEATH BEFORE DISHONOR - by famous Israeli producers Menachem Golan and Yoram Globus [Cannon Films] has all the earmarks of a film about evil Palestinians including the murder of innocent civilians and burning the Anerica Flag

RULES OF ENGAGEMENT- written by a former Dept of Defense worker, is highy racist; the American embassy in Yemen is attacked. Marines kill literally thousands of Arabs. Ultimately we see that the Arab civilians are not so innocent. Even the little girl whose leg was blown away by America bullets is a terrorist. The masaacre is justified; it is a righteous slaughter

DELTA FORCE - racist Arabs attack innocent Jews

TRUE LIES - this Schwartzenneger film, shown repeatedly on TV, is probably the most anti-Arab film made in recent times.

The overall message to the movie goers is: Arabs are not like us. They are not like anyone else. Statistic - while the world in general is moving ahead, the Arab world is slipping back. How do these films affect our feelings toward them? Kill them all. They deserve to die. And how do these filsm affect their feelings toward us?

ISLAMOPHOBIA: Muslim and Arab become threatening words

The war with Iraq was made easy due to constant screen villification of Arabs.


19 Arabs attacked America and killed thousands of innocent people. Americans let the lunatic fringe reflect all Arabs.

SLEEPER CELL - even Western looking ones are the enemy

Our Religious Channels: preachers say that Islam hates all nonMuslims. When Arabs are killed or tortured, it does not affect Americans in an emotional way; we don't care about them. Hate crimes against Arabs have proliferated since 9/11 Hollywood has made their villainy plain to see. We have grown accustomed to their face.

What images come to mind when we think of Arabs? Do we see real women, loving fathers, teenagers like our own? Do we see Muslim religion dominating them? Much of the Arab world is now secular. But even secualr ones hate us.What about Xtian Arabs? What about Arab comedians? Are they different from other comedians?

Decent Arabs

WE THREE KINGS - Arabs are people like anyone else

KINGDOM OF HEAVEN - peace between Arabs and European Christians - this movie was not popular in America but it git applause in Beirut.

SYRIANA - the prince wants to bring democracy to his country; it gets him and his family murdered.

HIDEOUS KINKY 1998 - an American woman is trapped in Morraco; a nice Arab helps her

PARADISE NOW - 2 Palestinian brothers plot to explode bombs inside Israel and rethink it.

In films, blacks, Jews, Indians, Chinese - Why don't they threaten us the way Arabs do?

On Fareed Zacharia's presentation, WHY THEY HATE US, he remarks that when you hear of a terrorist attack, you will assume that it is Islamic or Arab and 9 out of 10 times, you will be right as witness Orlando and San Bernardino. But most of these attacks will be Muslims attacking and killing other Muslims.

But let's look again at Hollywood's portrayal of Arabs and Muslims.

Otisnoman (United States), in his July 4, 2008 review of the movie, says, "Hollywood is gentle. Imagine if they showed sharia law in practice. Hollywood's treatment of Arabs on screen is actually often gentle and politically-correct, thanks to fear of protests like Mr. Shaheens. If the depiction of Arab terrorists seems over-the-top in a dumb action-adventure, try looking at pictures of Islamic men about to decapitate a hostage or the carnage after a suicide bombing. Or listen to a Bin Laden video urging Americans to join his efforts to establish a new caliphate. And does Shaheen really want Hollywood to show daily life in Iran, where women have to make sure they are not seen in public with nail polish on their fingers lest they be sent home or even beaten by religious enforcers who roam the streets and shopping centers? How about the stoning of adulterers, or punishment of rape victims, or limb-amputation of petty thieves? Until Islam itself confronts and truly tries to stop the use of random violence against civilians and the application of medieval laws to modern citizens, it's going to have a problem getting good press."

It's actually hard to sympathize with Arabs, especially Palestinians, when we have the example of Leon Klinghoffer, the Jewish-American crippled appliance manufacturer who was murdered and thrown overboard by Palestinian terrorists who hijacked the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985, and when we consider the recent outbreak of stabbings of Israeli Jews by Palestinians.

Americans also see American Arabs as terrorists, and some are as evidenced by the terror attacks purpertrated by Americans inspired by ISIS. And it's hard to forget about Anwar al-Awlaki, the jihadist preacher, born in New Mexico, who evolved from a peddler of Internet hatred to a senior operative in Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen. And also Samir Khan, another American citizen who moved to Yemen from North Carolina and was the creative force behind Inspire, the militant group’s English-language Internet magazine.

OKLAHOMA BOMBING - "On April 19, 1995, a truck-bomb explosion outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, left 168 people dead and hundreds more injured. The blast was set off by anti-government militant Timothy McVeigh, who in 2001 was executed for his crimes. His co-conspirator Terry Nichols received life in prison. Until September 11, 2001, the Oklahoma City bombing was the worst terrorist attack to take place on U.S. soil."

In the Oklahoma bombing, Americans immediately suspected Arabs and were surprised to discover it was an American, Timothy McVeigh, who masterminded it. On the day of the bombing, a friend of mine called me and said, "Abdul is at it again." The government actually hired 10 Arabic speakers to help in the Oklahoma investigation.

"In the wake of the explosion that destroyed the Murrah Federal Office Building, the media rushed—almost en masse—to the assumption that the bombing was the work of Muslim extremists. 'The betting here is on Middle East terrorists,” declared CBS News‘ Jim Stewart just hours after the blast (4/19/95'. 'The fact that it was such a powerful bomb in Oklahoma City immediately drew investigators to consider deadly parallels that all have roots in the Middle East,' ABC‘s John McWethy proclaimed the same day.'It has every single earmark of the Islamic car-bombers of the Middle East,' wrote syndicated columnist Georgie Anne Geyer (Chicago Tribune, 4/21/95). 'Whatever we are doing to destroy Mideast terrorism, the chief terrorist threat against Americans, has not been working,' declared the New York Times‘ A.M. Rosenthal (4/21/95). The Geyer and Rosenthal columns were filed AFTER THE FBI RELEASED SKETCHES OF TWO SUSPECTS WHO LOOKED MORE LIKE MIDWESTERN FRAT BOYS THAN MUJAHIDEEN." [emphasis mine]

Did You Know?:

The film features clips from the following movies [among others] which portray Arabs and Muslims in a negative view:

Exodus (1960), Cast a Giant Shadow (1966), Network (1976), Black Sunday (1977), The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington (1977), Chapter Two (1979), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Never Say Never Again (1983), Cannonball Run II (1984), Bolero (1984), Back to the Future (1985), Iron Eagle (1986), The Delta Force (1986), Death Before Dishonor (1987), Navy Seals (1990), The Hitman (1991), Aladdin (1992), True Lies (1994), Father of the Bride Part II (1995), Executive Decision (1996), Ernest in the Army (1998), A Perfect Murder (1998), Hideous Kinky (1998), The Siege (1998), Rules of Engagement (2000), Gladiator (2000), 24 (2001) (TV Series), Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), Paradise Now (2005), Sleeper Cell (2005) (TV Series), Syriana (2005)

Related News:
And the winner is … Islamophobia - Rachel Shabi -January 16, 2013 9:37 AM, -05:00 - The Guardian - TV News - on the page located at:

Homeland is brilliant drama. But does it present a crude image of Muslims? 13 October 2012 6:01 PM, -05:00 - The Guardian - TV News at

Discuss Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People (2006) on the IMDb message boards   at

See This Pertinent article:
Orientalism Part 2: The Vilification of Arabs in Hollywood Film

Jack Shaheen ... Himself - Narrator (as Dr. Jack Shaheen)

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