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Citations Needed

Jul 15, 2020


Our cultural context for understanding what we see on the news and hear in our politics, is often informed by the films and TV shows we’ve grown up watching. Pop culture is powerful and persuasive, and — for a century now — racist, Orientalist and cartoonish portrayals of Arabs and Muslims have littered our screens, big and small. This is the second episode in our three-part Citations Needed series on anti-Muslim racism in Hollywood. On Part I, we discussed big budget action and adventure films like Delta Force, American Sniper and True Lies, where Muslims get blown away at every turn.

But not every movie and TV show is quite so overt in its vilification of the designated enemy. Since the release of these movies, the state curated narrative in film has diversified, broadening to include savvier Oscar-bait productions in which anti-Muslim racism is dressed up in elaborate plot structures and supposedly nuance "debates".

Films like Argo, Syriana, and Zero Dark Thirty are lauded for their ostensible complexity, subtlety, and nuance, such as their willingness to suggest that government agencies like the CIA are bloated and bureaucratic. Instead of scenes with a tough action hero bodyslamming or mowing down teeming hordes of Muslim terrorists, these films are part of a smarter genre of jingoistic action film — the prestige thriller — featuring flawed protagonists, some meta comedy, and women CIA agents excelling in a historically male-dominated field of coups and torture.

But ultimately, they project the same tired nationalism and ideology reinforcement just in a sleeker, more modern form. On this episode, we’ll examine how anti-Muslim and anti-Arab propaganda is disseminated through the contemporary prestige thriller genre.

We're joined by historian, artist and author Maytha Alhassen.