08 Jul Episode 113: Hollywood and Anti-Muslim Racism (Part I) — Action and Adventure Schlock
Citations Needed | July 8, 2020 | Transcript
Intro: This is Citations Needed with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.
Nima Shirazi: Welcome to Citations Needed, a podcast on the media, power, PR and the history of bullshit. I am Nima Shirazi.
Adam Johnson: I’m Adam Johnson.
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Adam: Although I don’t care what you think either. No, just kidding. Ah definitely check out our Patreon if you can. There’s 60-plus Patreon-only News Briefs in there, which are little mini-episodes we do that are a little bit more responsive to the news, less evergreen and as always that helps subsidize the show to keep the episodes themselves free which they’ll always be. And we are, Nima, correct me if I am wrong, we are coming up on an anniversary soon —
Nima: Soon!? This episode, Adam! This episode actually marks the third year of Citations Needed. We started, what was it?
Adam: The first episode was July 11, 2017.
Nima: July 11, 2017, oh, those heady salad days. We’ve come a long way, baby.
Adam: Somehow we’ve still only spanned one presidential, it’s all been Trump’s era. Hopefully that’ll end soon.
Adam: Sorry if that ruins my street cred, but I would like him to not be president.
Nima: Yeah. For real. Let’s end that.
Adam: Especially the whole killing hundreds of thousands of people with COVID because he doesn’t believe in basic science. But we are marking our three-year anniversary appropriately enough with our first three-part episode, which is an episode we’ve actually been meaning to do since the very first episode. So we’re really excited to get it.
Nima: The U.S. and its close allies Saudi Arabia and Israel have been bombing and occupying large sections of the so-called “Muslim world” for decades — drastically ramping up after the 9/11 attacks and seemingly with no end in sight. The United States, like all empires, cannot operate a large, complex system premised on violence, meddling and subjugation without a moral pretext however. This moral pretext, long before 9/11 itself, was primarily about fighting a war on so-called “terrorism” or “Islamic extremism” while allegedly promoting stability, freedom and democracy across the world.
Adam: Along with American news media’s constant fearmongering over scary Muslims lurking in the shadows, which we’ve documented on this show a number of times, a major pillar propping up this moral pretext is pop culture — namely the cultural products coming out of Hollywood. Our decades-long War on Terror would no doubt be much more difficult to sustain without a constant reminder from television and film that, despite the fact that the average American is more likely to be killed by vending machines than a terrorist attack, the threat of Islamic terrorism remains ever-present and existential, marked by an inevitable clash of civilizations devoid of context or notion that the U.S. is a primary driver of violence across the globe.
Nima: Over the course of the next three episodes, we’re going to take a look at how Hollywood’s TV and studio film output helps prop up America’s military aggression in the Middle East, engages in both casual and explicit racism, strips conflicts of any historical or imperial context, pushes the idea the only Good Muslim is a snitch or CIA agent, and generally leaves its audience angrier and less informed.
Adam: So we’re going to break down this analysis into three episodes and we’re going to start by telling you what those episodes are. On today’s episode we will begin by reviewing Hollywood’s long history of anti-Muslim racism in both action and adventure films and TV and how it both primed us for and largely sustains our never-ending and self-perpetuating War on Terror.
Nima: Our next episode on Oscar-bait Imperialism will discuss the rise of the prestige thriller, that higher-brow anti-Muslim, anti-Iranian and anti-Arab content like Zero Dark Thirty and Argo that uses the trappings of nuance, realism, and subtly to recycle the same, tired imperial tropes.
Adam: And for our third installment in this series, no analysis of the way Hollywood promotes aggression in the Middle East would be complete without noting that cultural content, in part, emerges from material forces, namely in this case how the Pentagon and CIA have worked for decades to underwrite, co-produce and curate many of the major blockbusters that keep us both entertained and ready to kill faceless brown people.
Nima: So, on today’s episode we are going to attempt to summarize the robust, horrific history of anti-Muslim racism in Hollywood by focusing on and breaking down a handful of movies and TV shows. We should of course start with a disclaimer that this episode will, by its very nature, leave out a ton of important and perfect examples, and we apologize in advance for anything we omit that you may think is important, definitely tell us about that on Twitter or whatever. So spoiler alert, if you really want to talk about Lawrence of Arabia or Jewel of the Nile we are all about that but we literally couldn’t fit everything into one episode.
Adam: Yeah. From swashbuckling pirates on the high seas to fast-drawing gunmen in the Wild West, band of brothers war heroes to Cold War super spies, martial art killers to caped crusaders, vigilante maverick cops to un-retired fatherly assassins, Hollywood has always positioned white saviors against hordes of darker-skinned villains. This of course is nothing new and not, by the way, limited to anti-Muslim racism itself.
Nima: Westerns to war flicks gave way to the disaster movies like Airport, Towering Inferno, Earthquake and the Poseidon Adventure in the ‘70s. But by the middle of the decade, the summer blockbuster was born when a great white shark started eating sexy skinny dippers off Amity Island. Then came Luke Skywalker and Superman, Indiana Jones and Rambo, John McClane and Jack Ryan, Ethan Hunt and Lara Croft. But there’s always been a special place in the Hollywood bad-guy stable for the evil Arab or Muslim character — the vicious terrorist, the greedy sheikh, the shifty prince.
Since its inception, the American film industry has been instrumental in disseminating anti-Muslim and anti-Arab propaganda that reflects U.S. and Western European interests. Orientalism has always accompanied this representation, from The Sheik with Rudolph Valentino in 1921, The Thief of Baghdad in 1924 starring Douglas Fairbanks and William Welman’s Beau Geste in 1939 starring Gary Cooper and Ray Milland, all the way up to Jewel of the Nile with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in 1985, Not Without My Daughter starring Sally Field and Alfred Molina in 1991, and The House of Sand and Fog with Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly in 2003. This constant current runs particularly through action films, however, like 1986’s The Delta Force, 1994’s True Lies, and 2008’s Iron Man, which all chronicle the valiant efforts of muscular, white representatives of the U.S. against a cartoonish geopolitical enemy.
Adam: We want to begin by saying that much of this episode is influenced by and frankly rips off a documentary that came out in 2006 by media studies scholar Jack Shaheen, who sadly enough, ironically enough, died two days before the premiere of our first episode and whose debt we are in for this episode and media criticism in general, but he made a documentary in 2006, based on a 2001 book, both of which were called Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People. You can watch it online for free or pay for it if you can. It’s a really, really good documentary, definitely watch that in addition to listening to this, or you can turn us off now and just go watch that, although we of course have our own insight into this but definitely check that out. But he did a study when he was researching this book, and this is pre-9/11 by the way, he watched over 1,000 films made in the West between 1896 and 2000 portraying Muslim and Arab characters and in those films, Shaheen found that 12 of those films had positive depictions, 52 were even handed and the rest — more than 900 — were negative depictions of Arabs and Muslims. So this sort of tells you everything you need to know, which is that a thousand is a pretty robust study that well over 90 percent of films that depicted Muslims had an overwhelmingly negative impression of Arabs and Muslims.
Nima: Well, yeah, because I mean, it’s all terrorists and belly dancers and oil magnates and the like, and you know, anything from the fiercest terrorist that delivers an angry diatribe about the West — that incidentally is probably correct — all the way to faceless hordes that get mowed down either from Foreign Legion fort turrets or the business end of Rambo’s M60.
Adam: So there was obviously lots of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab racism prior to the 1970s but we’re going to begin this episode in the mid-’80s right when the war on terror began to be popularized, the concept of terrorism or Middle East terrorism entered the public consciousness, it emerged from the ‘70s and the idea of sort of war on terror which align the interests of U.S. and Israel and Western Europe all with each other to fight this kind of vague Muslim threat. And we’re going to begin by talking about the 1986 action film Delta Force.
Nima: Ah yes, Delta Force. Now, Delta Force starring, of course, Chuck Norris and Lee Marvin, is one of these quintessential white action heroes beat horde of Middle Eastern terrorists who are kind of an amalgam of all the different propagandized terrorist groups that we hear about all the time. So in Delta Force, Chuck Norris plays a retired Air Force official who accepts the call of duty, along with, of course a grizzled Lee Marvin, when a group of Lebanese terrorists from a fictionalized, hybrid version of Hezbollah and Palestinian liberation groups hijack a Boeing 707 flying from Cairo to New York City.
Adam: Yeah so Delta Force was a mix of two high profile airplane hijackings, one of which involved Operation Entebbe, which was a 1976 Israeli hostage-rescue mission carried out by commandos of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) at Entebbe Airport in Uganda on July 4, 1976. In the Operation Entebbe actually ended up being the one who died, coincidentally or ironically, Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his older brother, Yanatan Netanyahu, and that was carried out by a splinter group from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Marxist revolutionary group in Palestine, along with two members of the German Revolutionary Cells organization, a kind of RAF-type splinter cell of a splinter cell. And this was combined with the 1985 hijacking that happened just prior to the filming of the movie, TWA Flight 847 by a Hezbollah-like group, a Shia group although Hezbollah has denied being a part of this, and that was a hostage crisis where the passengers were held captive in Beirut, Lebanon. So this was a movie about smearing the enemies of Israel or rather demonizing the enemies of Israel. But of course all this context is completely stripped away and like all these other movies, which is a feature we’ll see, the evil Arab baddies are played by white actors.
Nima: Yeah, I mean, Delta Force has a fantastic cast of character actors, including Martin Balsam and Joey Bishop, Shelley Winters is in it, George Kennedy is in it and Robert Forster, who’s extremely white, plays an Arab terrorist leader named — what else? — Abdul, and he clearly is just wearing a caked on bronzer the whole time because Muslim-face is ubiquitous in these films.
Adam: Usually what they’ll do is they do it like they did in the ‘50s. So Native Americans or Puerto Ricans where they find an Italian or someone vaguely swarthy and they would be like ‘Okay, you’re now this ethnicity,’ so all the other Arab baddies, and this is a time honored tradition in films produced and filmed in Israel, all the other Arab bodies are played by Israelis speaking what is kind of a gibberish Arabic in the film.
Nima: Now, before we go any further, we do need to note that Delta Force was co-written, directed and produced by Menachem Golan who with his business partner, Yoram Globus co-owned Cannon Films, a film production company and distributor with its parent company, the Cannon Group that put out a lot of anti-Palestinian content during this time. Now Cannon Films was already in the business of making B movies from the ‘60s through the ‘90s, but the Globus/Golan partnership produced a number of explicitly pro-Israeli, anti-Palestinian films during this time. This included Operation Thunderbolt in 1977, which was specifically about Operation Entebbe and the Uranium Conspiracy the very next year in 1978 that’s an Israeli James Bond knockoff about a super spy who stops nuclear material from getting in the hands of dastardly Arabs and they also made a film called Deadly Heroes in 1993, which is about more menacing Arabs who use plastic toy guns that actually fire to hijack planes and do other very terrible, brutal terroristic acts.
Adam: One of the more dramatic scenes in Delta Force is when our white people with bronzer playing Arab bad-guy terrorists separate the Jews from the non-Jews in the airplane, sort of asserting the premise that Palestinian liberation groups or Palestinian resistance fighters are kind of mindless anti-Semites as opposed to fighting a war of national liberation against what they view as being an occupying foreign people who are kind of settler colonialists. They are in fact just sort of racist. They just hate Jews because they hate Jews. Something kind of similar happened on the hijacking flights we talked about from 1976 and 1985, although that’s disputed. The ’85 one is disputed, 1976 they separated Israelis and non-Israelis. Obviously, the leap between antisemitism and anti-Zionism can sometimes be muddied and it’s not always clear and it’s not to say that Palestinian liberation groups or Hezbollah cannot have anti-Semites in their ranks or be anti-Semitic, of course they can be, but all kinds of political context about the Palestinian liberation struggle are completely omitted and what you have is these kind of sweaty characters who just want to go up and kill Jews and kill Americans because they just hate Jews and they hate Americans and they hate American Jews.
Nima: Basically all the Arab characters in this film are like the Libyans in Back to the Future from the year before, from 1985, it’s just fleshing out that kind of character, just as irrational, just as mindlessly being terroristic with no actual context whatsoever.
[Begin Delta Force Clip]
Woman #1: David Rosovsky. Mr. Rosovsky, come to first class, please.
Adam: So they’re naming off passengers to take to another section of the plane.
Rosovsky: They’re making a mistake. They’re making a mistake.
Man: Mr. Rosovsky, you move or I shoot you right here.
Rosovsky: But I am not Jewish. I’m an American. I came from Russia but now I live in America. I am Christian Orthodox. Ask them. Sister, tell him I am not a Jew. Father, don’t you know me from Chicago?
Woman #2:- Wait. This man is telling the truth.
Man: Sit down. We know what we are doing.
Rosovsky: Sir, you are making a big mistake…
Adam: This is a very obvious Holocaust narrative at 30,000 feet, right?
Man: On the floor.
Woman #2: He is telling the truth.
Man: We know what we are doing.
Woman #3: Father. Where are you going?
Nima: Right. So then you have like a Catholic priest — whose name is obviously William O’Malley, because what else would it be? — joins the Jews in solidarity with them, so you have basically this, what is known as a Judeo Christian front against these menacing Muslim Arabs.
Man: What are you doing here?
O’Malley: You called me.
Man: What is your name?
O’Malley: William O’Malley.
Man: I did not call you.
O’Malley: You called for all the Jews. I’m Jewish, just like Jesus Christ. You take one of us, you gotta take us all.
Adam: Yeah, having a priest and a bunch of nuns is a little on the nose and this is played by George Kennedy of Naked Gun fame.
Man: Sit down, then.
[End Delta Force Clip]
Adam: But let’s be honest, the reality is the gentiles would have told them to fuck off. So, Robert Forster in bronzer, again, this is sort of the central premise, right? The Arab Muslim terrorists are driven entirely by racial hatred of Jews and that’s it. Full stop. Now, of course, you don’t expect a ton from Delta Force and I get that but, this is, you know, using schlocky action as an excuse is sort of the point, right? Because you can do these broad stereotypes and people will say, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s just the genre’ but of course, the genre is propping up a very racist idea that Palestinians are anti-Israeli liberation armies, like Hezbollah, have no sort of legitimate grievances, they’re just racist, they just hate Jews for some reason and of course, then they sort of repackage it into this Holocaust narrative and recast the clergy as saviors of the Jews even though, of course, they were the quickest one to sell them out during the Holocaust. So this is all done for deliberate effect.
Nima: And so then you have obviously the heroes of our tale, Major Scott McCoy, who’s Chuck Norris and Colonel Nick Alexander, who’s Lee Marvin, as well as Robert Vaughn and actually, I think Liam Neeson is in it in a very early role, which makes a lot of sense when you look at his later roles in Taken, he got it from there, he really likes killing Muslims. So they are part of Delta Force that comes to rescue the hostages, which they do in a violent fashion, which is all great and gratuitous. Interestingly enough, the premise in which they are able to get into Lebanon to prosecute this rescue, they take a little bit from the plot of Argo, which is based on the CIA rescue mission of American hostages out of Iran during the hostage crisis after the revolution and so what they do they fold some of that into Delta Force where Delta Force gets into Lebanon disguised as a Canadian television crew which is the mirror image of how the Americans were allegedly able to escape Iran, which we will get into a lot more next episode.
Adam: Yeah. So when Chuck Norris comes along somewhat unceremoniously in the second act and saves the day, along with Lee Marvin — sort of Dirty Dozen, badass Lee Marvin, Point Blank, et cetera — they fly the plane into Israel and they’re kind of heroes, they get a hero’s welcome after they waste the faceless Arab bad guys, and all is well and it sort of creates a kind of, again, this sort of Judeo Christian concept that these forces are taking on the threat from the East through from the Orient, and they’ve therefore been successful, and crisis averted.
Nima: The second film that we really want to talk about today — and maybe my favorite that we’re going to talk about throughout this whole series — is a film called Not Without My Daughter from 1991. It was released just six days before the launch of Operation Desert Storm in early 1991, that was in January. It tells the allegedly true story of an American woman and her daughter who traveled to Iran to meet her husband’s family and once they are there — dun dun dun — they’re not allowed to leave. They thought they were going for a vacation and now it’s their whole lives in post revolution Iran, what could possibly be worse? What may be worse is that the Iranian husband in it is played by a non-Iranian: Alfred Molina.
Adam: So yeah, this is a movie that I hadn’t seen until we worked on this episode, it somehow slipped in my shitty movie cracks and it’s a really horrible movie. It’s a very nasty, very gross movie. It’s supposedly based on the true story of someone named Betty Mahmoody, who is married to Sayyed Mahmoody, he convinces her to visit his family for two weeks, they get there, he doesn’t want to come back. Now, I’m sure that part of it’s true. There are abusive husbands, I don’t doubt that. As we say on the show over and over again the atomic unit of propaganda is not lies, its emphasis. There are of course hundreds and thousands and millions and millions of abusive husbands. It raises the question of why are we making a movie about this one single abusive husband? It of course is also filmed in Israel because that’s, I guess the stand in place where you want to bash Muslims, but they won’t let you film in their countries. And so they highlight this one abusive, evil Iranian, he starts to pivot towards a more orthodox, more hardcore religion, even though his wife wears a cross and all of his family are these very cartoon, evil, hyper-religious assholes. They basically kidnap her, keep her in the house and all the women and all the men are completely unmoved emotionally by her current state and it really does paint Iranians — with the exception of like the token, one or two token dissidents, but even they have basically no lines — it paints them all as just total brainwashed, cultish, religious nut jobs who have absolutely zero empathy. It’s a real gross movie.
Nima: Yeah, of the movies that we’re going to be talking about through these episodes, you know, I will readily admit a lot of them are super fun, and really a good time to watch even if they’re just politically terrible, right? There’s a lot of really fun shit out there that has terrible implications and comes from an awful place. Not Without My Daughter is a 100-percent mean-spirited, ugly film that is meant really solely to demonize an entire people or an entire country and is done so, I mean, pretty much explicitly. Maybe one of the best ways to try and portray this is by playing the film trailer in its entirety.
[Begin Trailer Clip]
Mahtob: I want to sit on Daddy’s lap.
Betty: Well, it’s my turn, you always sit on Daddy’s lap.
Moody: Don’t fight over me, girls… You know, I was born in Persia, they call it Iran now.
Nima: That name change happened like a hundred years or more ago. (Laughs.)
Adam: Yeah, I know.
Moody: In two weeks you and Ma will come and visit my family.
Narrator: In 1984, Betty Mahmoody’s husband took her and her daughter to Iran to meet his family.
Moody: It’s all changed.
Narrator: He swore they would be safe.
Betty: I know it’s a different culture, I just don’t understand it.
Narrator: He swore they would be happy. He swore they’d be coming home soon.
Betty: Sweetheart you haven’t packed anything, you want me to do for you?
Narrator: He lied.
Moody: I don’t know how to say this to you. We’re not going back. We’re staying here. I want us to live in Iran.
Betty: Are you crazy? We’re Americans, your daughter’s American.
Moody: I know it’s the right decision if you just give it a chance.
Betty: I won’t stay here, you can’t make me.
Moody: Are you listening?
Adam: And then he beats her, of course.
Betty: You’re in my country now. You do as I say, you understand me?
Adam: White women in danger.
Nima: Cue the vaguely Middle Eastern music.
Woman: If you marry an Iranian man you automatically become an Iranian citizen.
Moody: I told you before you don’t touch the phone and you don’t leave the house.
Woman: The laws regarding women are very strict.
Man: It is your duty. You cannot have secrets.
Woman: You have no rights to the children.
Mahtob: I’ll be with you. I’ll help you.
Woman: If you’re trying to escape with your children they could execute you.
Man: There are three principal ways out of here.
Betty: I promise you I won’t leave you.
Moody: You’ll never see Mahtob again, you understand me?
Betty: Dear Lord, hear our prayer.
Betty: Please don’t take her… please help us leave Iran and get back to America.
Adam: Of course, they’re praying to god.
Betty: Please let nothing separate us. for the nurse to understand me.
Adam: Images of covered women. There’s a bomb for some reason that goes off in their house.
Betty: Keep this always safe in your care. (Explosion) He’s going to kill me.
Man: We must go now.
Narrator: Metro Goldwyn Mayer proudly presents Academy Award winner Sally Field in the terrifying true story of a mother and her daughter whose only crime was being American.
Adam: Ah, that was their only crime.
Narrator: Not Without My Daughter.
[End Trailer Clip]
Nima: Yeah, man, that’s gold.
Adam: The trailer really kind of captures the whole meanness and nastiness of the movie, where basically it’s a white woman in peril with her white daughter, and they’re running from evil religious nutcases and like I said, the depiction of Iranians is they’re just completely dead in their eyes. Now, Nima, I know we don’t get personal on this show, but, you know, as someone who has an Iranian father and American mother, I’m sure this was —
Nima: It’s all true, man. (Laughs.)
Adam: This was a huge hit in your house.
Nima: They really nailed it.
Adam: Holiday movies for the whole family.
Nima: Yeah, I mean, you know, it was really just kind of like watching my own life, no.
Adam: Not Without My Son, basically.
Nima: (Laughs.) No, it really is such vicious propaganda. What I do like, though, is this story that Alfred Molina who plays the Iranian husband, the abusive Iranian husband, the kidnapping husband in Not Without My Daughter, he recounted this anecdote to Time Out New York, quote:
I played an Iranian character in Not Without My Daughter. One day I was on my way to a rehearsal in London and a gentleman approached me and said, ‘Are you that man from Not Without My Daughter?’ I thought he was a fan, so I said, ‘Why yes!’ And he just punched me. I don’t remember it hurting. It just threw me back and I landed on the bonnet of my car. All I could think to say was, ‘But I’m just an actor!’
So with this anecdote, you can see how maybe the portrayal of Iranians is really frustrating to Iranians, but also to this anecdote, you can affirm that all Iranian’s are really violent (chuckles) so it’s kind of a double whammy. So thank you, Alfred Molina for sharing this comical yet affirming anecdote about the violent nature of Iranians with Time Out New York.
Adam: Well, his “I’m just an actor” line is very telling. This is common among actors where you sort of don’t let the politics of what work get in the way of the work, you know, I understand struggling actors, I’m not going to pass judgment on that, but I think it’s interesting that ‘I can’t be responsible for the moral content of the art I create’ is an interesting dogma, right? And I think it’s one that’s starting to kind of be peeled back of late, but I think it’s very telling that he’s like, ‘Well, I know, I knew I was in this movie that basically incited violence against Iranians and made them all look like cartoon evil people, but I’m just collecting a check’ and it’s like, okay, well, sure, but it’s, you know, somewhere, at some point in that gradient —
Nima: I didn’t write that; I just read the words that someone else wrote.
Adam: Yeah, I don’t know.
Nima: What I think is amazing is that this film really, it was not just like a flash in the pan, NPR revisited it when, in 2015, the daughter of Not Without My Daughter, Mahtob Mahmoody, actually released her own memoir and so Rachel Martin, a host on NPR, brought her on the show, and they basically rehashed the story, which admittedly is a terrible personal tragic story about her family, but it really, really leans into taking the singular story and making it about a much broader thing, using it to zoom out and paint Iran as this really terrible evil place.
Adam: It’s not that it’s not true, sort of, you know, but this happens all the time with abusive men. So it’s like, why is this the story that we get a book, we get a major motion picture, we get follow up articles, we get, you know what I mean? Like, it’s this national story.
Nima: Well, yeah, no, exactly. So in this NPR interview from 2015, Rachael Martin, basically tees up the story and her interview with Mahtob this way:
[Begin NPR Clip]
Rachel Martin: Let’s go back if we could, to where this story began, the day that you left the U.S. with your parents to go to Iran. It was 1984, you were four years old at the time, the Iranian Revolution that happened just a few years prior and your dad had been swept up in this movement, even though he was living far away from his homeland, he was here in the states with you and your mom. How did he convince you and your mother to come with him because it wasn’t exactly a stable time to travel to Iran with a young child?
[End NPR Clip]
Nima: (Laughs.,) Okay, so —
Adam: When would have been a good time to visit your family?
Nima: Even this premise in retrospect, looking at this film and looking at the real life story, now a memoir, from one of the victims of it, still frames this as Iran is a dangerous place. In 1984, the revolution had been over for a number of years, Iran was not an unstable or unsafe place to be unless you count the fact that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was bombarding it with the help of the United States and Europe in the middle of what eventually became an eight year war and maybe that is what Rachel Martin was talking about? I don’t think so. I actually think it has to do with the fact that post-revolutionary Iran is just deemed, assumed by this NPR host to be unstable and dangerous for Americans. Now, people were traveling back to see their families all the time, that didn’t stop because there was a revolution, people still went back to see their families if they had been living abroad and so just this kind of setup of ‘How were you and your mother’ — I mean, the girl was four years old so clearly she had no say in the matter, but — ‘How did your mother get convinced to go to Iran in 1984?’ It’s like, as if that premise for an American to do that is so outrageous that even from the outset you know that this is going to be dastardly on the part of the husband.
Adam: Well, yeah, because over there is just generally dirty and violent and there’s no sense of, you know, most of it’s pretty stable and peaceful for the most part, depending on whose arming whom at that time.
Adam: The next movie we have the misfortune of criticizing is 1994’s True Lies. Directed by James Cameron starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. I know it’s a personal favorite of yours, Nima.
Nima: It is.
Adam: Aside from its runaway racism.
Nima: Or maybe because of it. (Laughs.)
Adam: So the bad guys in this movie are best understood to be sort of vaguely Palestinian, they’re kind of cartoon Arab terrorists.
Nima: With maybe some Iranian leanings? I don’t know, there’s a little Persian in there.
Adam: Yeah, because there’s the Persian artifacts. They’re just sort of vaguely Middle Eastern, but they dress and they’re read by several critics as being Palestinian and their plot is to use like half a dozen nukes to blow up major American cities in exchange for I guess Americans to stop bombing them? Their grievances are given a real quick 45-second speech, which is really just used as a gag anyway.
Nima: Right, because there’s a video camera that’s running out of batteries during this very sinister speech about U.S. imperialism. So it’s just played for laughs as opposed to actually articulating grievances that might make a lot of sense.
[Begin True Lies Clip]
Man #1: You have killed our woman and our children, bombed our cities from afar like cowards, and you dare to call us terrorists! Now, the oppressed have been given a mighty sword with which to strike back at their enemies. Unless you, America, pull all military forces out to the Persian Gulf area immediately and forever Crimson Jihad will rain fire on one major U.S. city each week until our demands are met. First, we will detonate one weapon on this uninhabited island as a demonstration of our power and Crimson Jihad’s willingness to be humanitarian. However, if these demands are not met, Crimson Jihad will rain fire on one major American city each week.
Man #2: Battery, Aziz!
Man #1: Get another one you moron.
Man #2: I think I have one in the truck.
[End True Lies Clip]
Adam: Yeah. And there’s a really well made comic strip in The Nib — now Pulitzer Prize-nominated The Nib — from January of 2019 by Iasmin Omar Ata, the headline is, “The Anti-Palestinian Propaganda You Don’t Know You’re Consuming.” There’s a comic strip that reads:
One of the most obvious and blatant examples of this is True Lies. The James Cameron film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose character fights against militant Palestinian ‘terrorists.’ The film garnered both financial success and popularity, as well as multiple awards wins and nominations. The film’s villain, Salim Abu Aziz, heads a fictional, nuclear-armed Palestinian terrorist org ‘Crimson Jihad.’ Aziz and his lackeys, and thusly Palestinians in general, are portrayed as crude ‘terrorists’ clearly posing a threat to ‘American values.’ I’ve only seen True Lies recently, and it was floored: I had always heard this film toted as a fondly-remembered ‘classic.’ A sinking question came to mind: How can this hateful depiction of my people be so celebrated? To top it all off, I learned that True Lies plays very often on cable, beaming bigotry daily into the minds of millions of Americans for over twenty years.
And I think this is interesting because it’s like, you know, when you do pop-culture criticism, the first response you have, and I think Nima, you and I have this kind of little guy in our head too, where it’s like, ‘Don’t be such a buzzkill, it’s just pop culture.’ Now, we’ve argued, of course, many times in the show that pop culture matters, and I think the defensiveness arises from the fact that you do like the movies, right? And people don’t want to cancel their favorite movies internally but I think what we sort of propose is that you can sort of simultaneously enjoy a movie, but understand that for a lot of people and some people who may be Palestinian people, not that of course this writer speaks for all Palestinians, but I would imagine it’s not a trivial amount of people, get really sick and tired of seeing their culture really only displayed as one thing.
Nima: If you’re always the villains or victims in these films and never the heroes, it gets really fucking tired, right? It gets really just because you see how these things add up. It’s not just one here, one there. It’s the general depiction of people with ancestry in that part of the world that are deemed especially violent, especially evil and especially disposable, in terms of body count and viewers of this kind of pop culture, when it is this ubiquitous, eventually get numb to the actual violence that is going on in the world. In Hollywood TV and film, when the people doing all the evil killing, then get to be killed by good guys and those people all look a certain way, they’re all speaking in some kind of garbled, scary gibberish that we’re meant to, you know, think is Arabic or something like that, then when real people are living under falling bombs that have, you know, American flags on them or subject to night raids or worse by American troops, you know, the American public is going to get desensitized to that, we’re going to get numb to it, and that is very much the purpose of these films, that they are so constant and consistent in their messaging about whose lives matter, about who is deemed human enough to be allowed to live and whether it is, you know, in the kind of family drama of a Not Without My Daughter which paints Iranians and their families as being super extremist and uncaring and anti-American, all the way to caricature and cartoonish villains like in True Lies, all these people effectively, can just be blown away. And it’s fine.
Adam: Yeah, we’re sort of played for yuks and it’s like, again, I know that they’re non-Arab villains too, right? You have your Die Hard whatever, you have your Speed, your sort of ex-cop, disgruntled, obviously they’re not all Arabs and Muslims. They are wildly, disproportionately Arab Muslim relative to the amount of actual threat terrorism faces to us, which again is fairly trivial, especially back in the ‘90s and there’s never any sense of real context to like, what would a grievance be? Are these terrorists motivated by religious nuttery or are they motivated by legitimate grievances? Are they motivated by? I think one of the most interesting examples of this is Die Hard because the original book Die Hard, the German terrorists were not cynical profiteers, the German terrorists were a kind of version of the RAF, they were a revolutionary Marxist Leninist group and his wife worked for an oil company in the original book and they changed all that because they don’t want to make the bad guys too sympathetic. In the book, they’re actually very sympathetic.
Nima: Incidentally, the book is called Nothing Lasts Forever and yeah, it’s what kind of laid the basis for the Die Hard film with huge differences.
Adam: Yeah. What I think it’s interesting that all the politics get stripped down and you’re left with these either purely for profit bad guys, which are always fun, but any kind of meaningful ideology just sort of messes it up and True Lies of course gives our bad guy a 45-second little speech that’s sort of played for yuks, right? Because it’s interrupted by the guy running out of batteries in the camera. And the rest of it is just again, the average person would look at this and say, ‘Yeah, of course it’s a joke and of course, it’s a fucking Arnold Schwarzenegger movie,’ you know, there’s a lot of gags in it but it does reinforce an idea that this is something they would do, that if they were permitted they would — they being the sort of generic Muslims we’re not even told who they are specifically, although again, most people infer they’re Palestinian — who is nuking Miami? This is not a thing that like the PLO is going to go do you know what I mean?
Nima: But I think that’s kind of the whole point. When you think about who these villains are, it’s unquestioned that this is believable, even in its outsized action hero way, that a villain when portrayed as raving, raging Arab, if there’s a keffiyeh thrown around somewhere that’ll probably work, if there’s a sweaty, Uzi-carrying villain, this will go a long way to making these stories totally believable and that’s the point here. Think about what it takes, think about what kind of consistent depiction in the media can just establish people who either sound a certain way, look a certain way, or are said to be from a certain area of the world. It just is assumed ‘Oh, yeah, well, because right, they hate America. They hate us. Exactly. They are a danger to us.’
Adam: They’ve been fighting for hundreds of years, thousands of years, they’re just sort of mindlessly violent. No context to anything.
Adam: So the next two movies we’re going to do involve what I think is one of the nastiest, I would say genocidal tropes, which is what poet and scholar Maytha Alhassen calls the killer kid trope, which is used to sort of justify the killing of Muslim and Arab children. This was used in two films: Rules of Engagement and American Sniper.
Nima: Rules of Engagement is really one of the best of this genre. The kind of screaming Arab terrorists hordes. It came out in 2000, or right before 9/11 propaganda descended, and it really sets up this kind of trope.
Adam: This is based on a screenplay written by Jim Webb, the U.S. Senator, former secretary of Navy, and 2016 presidential candidate who bizarrely boasted about killing a Vietnamese soldier in a really creepy way on the debate stage in 2015. He wrote the script, I’m sure it was too dogshit so they basically just rewrote it, but it’s based on his original work and it’s about American soldiers in Yemen, who fire on a crowd of protesters and the whole thing revolves around the trial of the commanding officer who gave the order to shoot on the crowd and kill a bunch of civilians. The very end of the movie, it’s revealed that they were actually fired on first —
Nima: They were right to do it!
Adam: They were justified in killing civilians and then we sort of find out who actually did the shooting and it’s pretty gross. We’re going to play a clip from Rules of Engagement. This is being narrated by the GOAT Jack Shaheen who is explaining what’s going on on screen because obviously doing film criticism on podcasts can be difficult because you can’t watch how horrible it is.
[Begin Reel Bad Arabs Clip]
Jack Shaheen: And as they try to do so, the Marines open fire on the crowd and kill scores of Yemeni people, including women and children. And then the investigation follows Tommy Lee Jones, the lawyer who represents the Samuel Jackson character, goes to Yemen to investigate. The movie leads us to believe what seems obvious, that the marines committed this atrocity.
Man #1: Armed American Marines were shooting at his people. They were just trying to defend themselves.
Jack Shaheen: During his investigation, Jones’s character sees a little girl with only one leg, he follows her, comes upon a hospital ward full of civilian victims, he finds an audiotape by the bed of one of the victims and when the tape gets translated in court, we immediately begin changing our minds about who is responsible for this mess.
Man #2: To kill Americans and their allies both civil and military is duty of every Muslim who is ever born.
Jack Shaheen: We discover that the Yemeni civilians aren’t so innocent after all. It turns out they fired on the Marines first and the moment that will live in Hollywood infamy, we suddenly learn that the local girl we’ve been sympathizing with, the very girl whose humanity and innocence may have broken down our stereotypes, well, she’s no better than those other Yemeni terrorists. As a result, Samuel L. Jackson delivers the key line —
Colonel Terry Childers: Waste the motherfuckers!
Jack Shaheen: We’re now on his side.
[End Reel Bad Arabs Clip]
Adam: So this is about a six- or seven-year-old girl who fires first and you see her shooting at the Americans. It’s probably the single most horrific thing I’ve ever seen in any movie ever. So then American Sniper did this exact same trope about fifteen years later and we’re going to watch that clip right now, this is where the American sniper is hesitating to shoot a woman and a child but it turns out that they are of course threatening to kill people.
[Begin American Sniper Clip]
Chris Kyle: Oh, hold on, I got a woman at a kid twenty yards out moving towards a convoy. Her arms aren’t swaying and she’s carrying something. (Noises.) Yeah she’s got a grenade, she’s got an RKG Russian grenade, she’s handing it to the kid.
Man on Radio: Woman and a kid?
Chris Kyle: You got eyes on this? Can you confirm?
Man on Radio: Negative. Your call.
Man: If you’re wrong they’ll send your ass to Leavenworth.
Adam: He says you’re going to end up in Leavenworth, the military prison. This is a hard moral choice. You have to decide whether or not to kill the kid. (Gunshot.) And then he shoots the kid.
Man: That was gnarly.
Adam: And then the woman tries to throw a bomb at him and she gets killed. (Bomb.) And then the bomb goes off and blows up the U.S. military troops.
Man: Fucking bitch.
Man on Radio: Nice shooting. Hell of a call.
[End American Sniper Clip]
Adam: This is gross for a couple of reasons. There’s a really huge geopolitical reason why this movie is so bad and it’s one that not a lot of people talked about. So the movie shows 9/11, right? And then he’s looking at it on the screen, then it cuts and he’s invading Iraq. The implication being is that Iraq was related to 9/11. Not only that, Chris Kyle was himself, his first mission was the initial invasion in March of 2003. Now in the movie, he’s fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq, right? Sort of the people who attacked us on 9/11. sort of vaguely, maybe —
Nima: Which didn’t even exist for at least a year and a half, if not more.
Adam: Al-Qaeda in Iraq really didn’t appear in Iraq until mid 2004. The initial resistance force in Iraq was largely non sectarian and largely populist. It was not foreign and it was local, right? But showing Chris Kyle invading Iraq and killing women and children who were just fighting back at American invasion — as anybody would do if anyone invaded their country period, right? — would be gross so then they retcon Al Qaeda too early to mid 2003. So when Chris Kyle shoots the women and children, you’re thinking, ‘Oh, they’re just a bunch of mindless al-Qaeda drones. He’s not killing a popular uprising from a resistance force from an invading army, but is in fact killing someone who is al-Qaeda like terrorists,’ that little sleight of hand is actually really important. It wasn’t the thing discussed a lot during the movie, but it’s actually really important because what it does is it reinvents the Iraq War as a war against al-Qaeda, when of course, the only reason Sunni extremists poured in from Saudi Arabia was because the U.S. was feeling sectarianism deliberately to divide the resistance as Jeremy Scahill documents in his book on Blackwater, this was something that was very common. And of course, sectarianism emerges for its own reasons, separate from what the U.S. does or doesn’t do, but initially, this wasn’t the case, but they don’t want to show that so we have this weird thing where 9/11 happens boom, cut to the next scene, we’re fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq, which is extreme revisionism and very, very offensive.
Nima: Now, of course, American Sniper, directed by Clint Eastwood, Chris Kyle is played by Bradley Cooper, American hero Bradley Cooper, and this scene in particular, the film in general, you know, and it’s based on on Kyle’s autobiography, but the film in general seems to be a response to the collateral murder video that was leaked by Chelsea Manning through Wikileaks of U.S. military blowing away civilians in Iraq and then praising each other for it. And this scene in particular has that feel it’s ‘Look, you got to make a judgment call and your judgment call has to be made in the heat of battle’ — I don’t know what battle there is other than a fucking occupying force, if you weren’t there, you wouldn’t have to make that judgment call so fuck off — but there really is this feeling of if you don’t make this snap decision right now, Americans will die and so you need to be cool and collected and cold blooded, make that decision, save lives by taking the terrorist lives and that this is like a direct commentary in response to war crimes that had already long been revealed about what Americans did in Iraq. And I just think, you know, then American Sniper became this, not only critically acclaimed and nominated for awards and shit, but also very much this right-wing rallying cry, elevated Clint Eastwood to even more right-wing hero status and specifically takes a American soldier whose job it is to kill Iraqis and turns him into our newest American hero.
Adam: Well, you know, Chris Kyle’s a documented pathological liar. He’s been found by several different instances to lie about things that we know weren’t true. A judge has found him liable for lying about other things. He’s a pathological liar. So if the guy shoots a woman and children, which he later admits that he’s just a psychopath who likes to kill people, of course he’s going to say they had a bomb. Does anyone really believe this, even if that story is true, does anyone really believe that? You know, and this is, again, the idea of anyone, this is a similar trope to justify mass slaughter in Vietnam that ‘Oh, anyone can be a soldier and anyone can be anywhere.’ It’s like, well, first off, maybe that’s your first hint you shouldn’t be there. Call me crazy. Second off, like the popularization of this narrative that everyone could kill them at any time, women, children, whatever, effectively militarizes the whole population, which of course, is the goal of that scene, the goal of that movie, and therefore killing anyone is justified.
Nima: And to kind of wrap this all up, Chris Kyle, after killing upwards of 150, 160 human beings, if not far more, that’s like the official numbers, probably closer to 250, 300 people that he killed, he later served as a bodyguard for Sarah Palin. So you know, that’s cool, I guess.
Adam: So we’d be remiss if we left this episode without talking about the mother of Islamophobic propaganda 9/11, during 911, which was 24.
Adam: Yeah, on Fox. Now I have seen every episode of 24 as you may have noticed by my several references to 24. Not proud of it. Nonetheless, it is a show that was very much a part of the culture of the war on terror in its first ten years, not to be confused with this next ten years or the next thousand years. But Muslim terrorists were bad guys in every even season. So season 2, 4, 6, 8 and then they would go back and forth to different kinds of terrorists, by their own admission, because they didn’t want to be seen as being anti-Muslim but I guess that’s the way they got around it. But the show repeatedly, like Homeland, it completely flattens any kind of sectarian differences between Sunni and Shia. So all the bad guys are kind of interchangeable, Iranian, Arab —
Nima: Sunni, Shia, Hezbollah, Hamas, al-Qaeda, yeah, all of it. It’s the same as Homeland. Homeland is like a corollary to this which we will spare all of you but it’s the same kind of thing. It’s like every terrorist’s name is like Abu Abdul Ahmed Mohammed who incidentally are Israeli and base it on Israeli shows.
Adam: Yeah, Homeland was the sort of Israeli version of 24. So there’s two seasons in particular that are really, two plot lines in the show that are really horrific that we want to stop and highlight. So season four of 24 follows the Araz family who are read as either Turkish or Iranian, it’s kind of difficult to tell.
Nima: Man, who cares.
Adam: But they are helping the mastermind terrorist Habib Marwan, not a very clever name, and they are like an average normal middle class family and like that son’s dating this like white American girl who he of course kills and they had this ad this billboard up that apparently was a pretty big media campaign that they later took down but it showed a sort of happy looking, middle class Muslim family and the tagline was, “They could be next door.” And that pretty much sums up season four, which largely focuses on this terrorist family who’s embedded themselves in the community.
Nima: It sums up season four of 24 and the past eight decades of Hollywood.
Adam: Right. So they help them procure, they basically hack into and take over America’s nuclear missile systems.
Nima: Yeah. So then in season six of the show, which came out in 2007, has this plotline that basically starts off the season — it’s very early — so the premise is that there have been a wave of Muslim terrorist attacks and so now, bigoted, white Americans are going around beating up Muslim looking people. In a season premised around hate crimes against Muslims, you have this plotline where these two white bigots, you know, white supremacist or whatever go and they find a seemingly wholesome average suburban teen who just happens to be played by Kal Penn, and whose name is Ahmed Amar, because the white people are just targeting the Muslims and we need to comment on this because this is how things can get so out of hand — but yet! — there’s a twist.
Adam: Yeah, so the guy commits a hate crime, which you think okay, they’re kind of trying to be woke, are acknowledging anti-Muslim hatred.
Nima: That’s sparked by their own show.
Adam: Yeah. Right. But then the guy ends up being right, the guy is a terrorist. So let’s listen to that clip now.
[Begin 24 Clip]
Adam: We’re watching the white bigot come up to the house while the terrorist is pulling the bomb parts out of the wall.
Nima: That’s just bad timing.
Adam: So now he comes out and he attacks him, he punches him.
Man: This is for everyone you bastards killed. (Fighting.) How do you like it huh? (Broken glass.) Get up! Get up! You’re dead, you hear me? You’re dead.
Adam: Oh. The kid has a gun and so he proceeds to shoot him.
Man: Please, don’t.
Adam: And now he’s speaking in Arabic and then he wastes him.
[End 24 Clip]
Adam: So that was all that was all good. So this guy is set up as this generic white kid, average white kid, his best friend and he’s like, ‘Don’t mind them. They’re all just bigots. We’re not all hateful.’ Turns out though the bigot’s right, the guy is a terrorist. So, like —
Nima: It just justifies hate crimes.
Adam: And again, I hear you say, ‘Oh, it’s just a show.’ I don’t care. It’s really, really horrible stuff and it’s definitely the low point of the show. It shocked a lot of people of course, to be clear, the show was protested non stop by groups like CARE and other sort of media watchdogs as being horribly racist, and then they would kind of keep doubling down on it or say it was sort of depicting realism. Now 24, of course, had a very infamous and tight relationship with the Bush administration, who were all huge fans of the show, a very synergistic relationship with the Bush White House and the Defense Department.
Nima: Yeah, so the co-creator and executive producer of 24, Joel Surnow, is a notorious kind of right-winger, in his office, there was, you know, an American flag on display labeled that it was the flag that had, you know, flown over Baghdad after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. This is documented in a rather excellent, I think, profile on the politics of 24, written by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker, this from 2007, the same year that that wonderful Kal Penn season aired, and how Surnow boasts that, quote, “The military loves our show. End quote. And adds that, quote, “People in the Administration love the series, too… It’s a patriotic show. They should love it.” End quote. Now, of course, he’s talking about the Bush Cheney administration and Mayor writes this, quote:
Not long after September 11th, Vice-President Dick Cheney alluded vaguely to the fact that America must begin working through the ‘dark side’ in countering terrorism. On ‘24,’ the dark side is on full view. Surnow, who has jokingly called himself a ‘right-wing nut job,’ shares his show’s hard-line perspective. Speaking of torture, he said, ‘Isn’t it obvious that if there was a nuke in New York City that was about to blow — or any other city in this country — that, even if you were going to go to jail, it would be the right thing to do?’
Adam: So, that prior March, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, Virginia, joined Surnow and Howard Gordon for a private dinner at Rush Limbaugh’s Florida home. Quote:
The gathering inspired Virginia Thomas — who works at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank — to organize a panel discussion on ‘24.’ The symposium, sponsored by the foundation and held in June, was entitled ‘ ‘24’ and America’s Image in Fighting Terrorism: Fact, Fiction, or Does It Matter?’ Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who participated in the discussion, praised the show’s depiction of the war on terrorism as ‘trying to make the best choice with a series of bad options.’ He went on, ‘Frankly, it reflects real life.’ Chertoff, who is a devoted viewer of ‘24,’ subsequently began an e-mail correspondence with Gordon, and the two have since socialized in Los Angeles. ‘It’s been very heady,’ Gordon said of Washington’s enthusiasm for the show. Roger Director, Surnow’s friend, joked that the conservative writers at ‘24’ have become ‘like a Hollywood television annex to the White House. It’s like an auxiliary wing.’ The same day as the Heritage Foundation event, a private luncheon was held in the Wardrobe Room of the White House for Surnow and several others from the show. (The event was not publicized.) Among the attendees were Karl Rove, the deputy chief of staff; Tony Snow, the White House spokesman; Mary Cheney, the Vice-President’s daughter; and Lynn Cheney, the Vice-President’s wife, who, Surnow said, is ‘an extreme ‘24’ fan.’ After the meal, Surnow recalled, he and his colleagues spent more than an hour visiting with Rove in his office. ‘People have this image of him as this snake-oil-dirty, secretive guy, but in his soul he’s a history professor.’
So this sort of symbolic relationship also reportedly extended to actual legal logic and legal rulings.
Nima: Yeah, like there’s like actual implications when there’s a TV show that is, you know, beloved by a torture administration because it basically gives them cover. Now, this was revealed in 2008 Newsweek article by Dahlia Lithwick called, quote, “The Fiction Behind Torture Policy: The lawyers designing interrogation techniques cited Jack Bauer more frequently than the Constitution” and in it Lithwick writes this, quote:
According to British lawyer and writer Philippe Sands, Jack Bauer — played by Kiefer Sutherland — was an inspiration at early brainstorming meetings’ of military officials at Guantánamo in September 2002. Diane Beaver, the staff judge advocate general who gave legal approval to 18 controversial interrogation techniques including waterboarding, sexual humiliation and terrorizing prisoners with dogs, told Sands that Bauer ‘gave people lots of ideas.’
Michael Chertoff, the Homeland Security chief, gushed in a panel discussion on ‘24’ organized by the Heritage Foundation that the show ‘reflects real life.’ John Yoo, the former Justice Department lawyer who produced the so-called torture memos — simultaneously redefining both the laws of torture and of logic — cites Bauer in his book ‘War by Other Means.’ ‘What if, as the Fox television program ‘24’ recently portrayed, a high-level terrorist leader is caught who knows the location of a nuclear weapon?’ Even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, speaking in Canada last summer, shows a gift for this casual toggling between television and the Constitution. ‘Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles … He saved hundreds of thousands of lives,’ Scalia said. ‘Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?’
Adam: So yeah, it’s this weird blending and it’s difficult to know, with a lot of the stuff, of who is influencing who. 24 also gets, like we’ll discuss in episode 3, 24 gets some logistical consulting support from the Department of Defense as well. But again, we’ll discuss that in episode 3. Before we go, we want to mention some honorable mentions. There’s a lot of horrible racist movies we left out.
Nima: Ah, so many.
Adam: We would be remiss if we didn’t mention them.
Nima: The Siege, Executive Decision.
Adam: The sweaty decontextualized Muslim bad guys. Taken as a very genocidal line in it, so the white daughter is kidnapped by Albanian Muslims and there’s a line where the police chief says “They’re coming by the thousands, we can’t stop them” which is genocide of language And that’s sort of casually thrown in there. Homeland, the spiritual successor to 24, Exodus: Gods and Kings, which is really just sort of a weird whitewash where Ancient Egyptians, who were very, very not white, they were almost certainly what we would consider today Sub-Saharan African or Arab, portrayed by Christian Bale. There’s a whole history, a whole episode we could do on white actors playing Arabs that we don’t have time to do. But Ridley Scott’s quote about the movie, which came out in 2014, so the film, Exodus: Gods and Kings got a lot of shit at the time because, you know, 2014 is not a long time ago for casting very white actors as Egyptians and John Turturro as the Pharaoh. And this is what Ridley Scott said, he said, quote, “I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such… I’m just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn’t even come up.” I think that really kind of speaks to the issue here, which is that there’s an inertia, right? The bad guys are Muslims. They’re always Muslims. We’re not really going to criticize that. And I think now that people are thinking critically about things like copaganda or anti-blackness in American films I think it’s useful to think about why we turn to these bad guys and what does that mean and why is the context always omitted and why can’t you get a film financed with Mohammed so and so on and what are you doing to subvert that reality? You know Ridley Scott’s not nobody. You’re not pinching pennies, you’re not paying handling to get your films financed, you’re making $200 million epic pictures. So it just shows how so much of this is just mindless and uncritical, as well as sinister and I think calculated, it sometimes can also just be a product of people not really giving a shit about questioning why Mohammed so and so is seen as less than human.
Nima: And like, as you said, it’s Ridley Scott, it’s James Cameron, it’s Clint Eastwood, like these budgets are going to be huge. The decision to cast who they cast is deliberate. The decision to tell the stories that they are telling is deliberate. They know that they are out to make these huge movies that are going to appeal to as many people as possible. But in that calculation, the people that it’s supposed to appeal to are white people who already just assume that non white people are dangerous. If you bring that assumption, that assumption built on decades, if not millennia of propaganda and genocide and colonialism and imperialism, that’s why that is reflected in our pop culture and then our pop culture, as we were just saying in terms of 24, gets reflected back on to our politics. So there’s a feedback loop where they reinforce each other and that is why these films, as fun as some of them may be and as terrible as others may be, still wind up reinforcing the common narrative of threat, terror, violence, distrust, overall bloodthirsty, dishonesty of Arabs, of Muslims of Iranians, et cetera, and so you kind of start to see why not only these remain popular and why they remain cash cows for Hollywood but why then, it is so much easier for the U.S. government to prosecute the violent wars that it does all over the world, because there’s not going to be any pushback because what we’re seeing in the news is the same thing as we’re seeing on our streaming TV shows and like we’re kind of just cool with all of it.
Adam: It’s worth noting that some effort has been made in television, and even increasingly film to counter this. The extent to which Muslims are portrayed as positive, they’re always portrayed, 90 percent of the time you’re a snitch, you’re either a CIA agent or you work for the FBI. Like there’s always the good Arab in The Siege, there’s a good Arab in the show FBI, there’s the good Arab in Homeland and Sleeper Cell, then in 24 season six they have like the token good Arab and the reason why that is, is because well to indemnify themselves against accusations of racism, but it’s also sort of reinforce the idea that the only way a Muslim American can be good as if they’re cops, right? If they’re snitching on other Muslims or condemning terror —
Nima: Or doing what they can to save white Americans.
Adam: Yeah, and this is something you see again and again, but increasingly, you have Hulu show Ramy which is a sort of positive depiction of Muslims. I think that’s kind of changing, this is not a static thing. I think there are efforts, because of the, I hate to use this term, but sort of slightly more democratized nature of television there’s just so many more options, maybe democratize isn’t the word, but it’s more niche that you’re sort of maybe seeing some of these representations not be this horrible. But the broad aggregate history of this is pretty uniform. I mean, the fact that Jack Shaheen’s study showed 90-plus percent negative depictions of Arabs in films before 9/11 is not a good sign.
Nima: Right. Exactly. This isn’t just because of the past 20 years. This is decades long. But we have so much more to talk about in terms of the depiction of Arabs and Muslims in Hollywood that we have two more episodes for you. So thank you for joining us for this first one, for this first anti-Muslim, anti-Arab narratives in Hollywood episode. Look out for the next two and of course, thank you all for listening to Citations Needed, for continuing to rate, review and share the show we cannot do the show without you. You of course can follow us on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, become a supporter of our work through Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson. If you are able to do that, that is so appreciated and of course as always, an extra special shout out goes to our critic level supporters through Patreon. I am Nima Shirazi.
Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.
Nima: Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. Associate producer is Julianne Tveten. Production assistant is Trendel Lightburn. Newsletter by Marco Cartolano. Transcriptions are by Morgan McAslan. The music is by Grandaddy. Thanks everyone again, we’ll catch you next time.
This episode of Citations Needed was released on Wednesday, July 8, 2020.
Transcription by Morgan McAslan.