December 18, 2008

On The Big Screen Where All Arabs Are Israeli

According to Newsweek Arab actors refuse to take some roles because they are "stereotyped as terrorists'.

Anyone watching HBO's ongoing miniseries "House of Saddam" surely must be struck by the lead actor's resemblance to the late Iraqi dictator. Me? I was struck by something else: his Israeli accent. "Why does Saddam Hussein sound like my old grocer in Jerusalem?" I called out before checking the movie credits online. (Yes, an Israeli, but no, not my grocer.)

The post-9/11 era might be Hollywood's Arab moment. But Israeli actors seem to be reaping the benefit, getting many of the best parts. Take Yigal Naor. Before portraying Saddam Hussein, the stout actor from Tel Aviv played Iraqi Ahmed Chalabi in "10 Days to War," an Arab interrogator in the Hollywood film "Rendition" and a Palestinian militant in Steven Spielberg's "Munich." One of his costars in "House of Saddam" is Israeli Uri Gavriel, who portrays the depraved Chemical Ali. Gavriel also played a Saudi terrorist in "The Kingdom."

Certainly, plenty of Arabs are getting Arab roles. The Egyptian actor Amr Waked is riveting as Saddam's brother-in-law in the HBO series, and he also had a good role in "Syriana." Often, however, Arab characters in Hollywood films are terrorists—and many Arab performers won't take those parts. According to Jack Shaheen, whose book "Reel Bad Arabs" chronicles the history of Arab stereotyping in U.S. cinema, nuanced roles for Arabs are rare. "I don't believe casting directors think of Arabs in any other way except as playing terrorists or villains," he says.

But Alon Aboutboul, an Israeli actor who plays Al-Saleem in the recent thriller "Body of Lies," says there's a universalism in the anger and alienation of the characters he portrays. "I don't think of playing a terrorist," he says. "I think of someone who's idealistic and believes passionately in what he's doing." Oscar nominee Shohreh Aghdoshloo, who is a star in her native Iran, plays Saddam's wife in the HBO series and once played a terrorist on "24."[...]

Still, moviegoers across the Arab world must find it unsettling to see themselves so often depicted by their enemies. Arab conspiracy theorists, already convinced that Israel engineered the war on Iraq, must view "House of Saddam" as further evidence. As for my old grocer, he might be wasting his time. He could be a movie star.

It's the Jooooooos fault. Besides, what I see coming out of Hollywood is sympathy for the terrorists, not stereotyping.

Video clip House of Saddam

Article reminded me of this video:

"Reel Bad Arabs"

By Stable Hand at 11:59 AM | Comments |