Hollywood: One front we haven’t conquered yet
Saudi Gazette Sunday, February 24, 2013
By RAY HANANIA
As a child growing up in the hostile, anti-Arab world of America, I remember that the movies with Middle East themes always portrayed Arabs as the villains and Israelis as the heroes. Nearly every terrorist in a film featuring the Middle East looked like one of my relatives, not only to me but to my American friends.
In the last half decade or so, there have been some changes in Hollywood films, and a few movies that have tried to portray Arabs in a more accurate and positive light. But there haven’t been enough of them. I am still waiting for some bright young writer to pen the Arab version of the famous – or infamous – Leon Uris novel which was made into a movie called “Exodus,” which featured Jewish American actor Paul Newman in the lead role.
This year we again see a few films trying to break the longstanding stereotype at the Academy Awards where films compete for an “Oscar.” The Oscars are significant. Winning pushes a film to a higher level of exposure, increasing the audiences that will view it.
Just making the Academy Awards as a “finalist” in the competition with other films is enough to give a movie the audience lift to move it from obscurity to success. And I define success not based on how much money a film generates but rather on how many people actually watch it.
The movie Exodus was a “compelling” film that told a very human story. The poor Israelis, victims of the Nazi Holocaust, were seeking to find a refuge from the oppression of anti-Semitism and hatred. They were portrayed as just fighters. They faced the sinister enemy, the Arabs, who were viciously portrayed in horrible stereotypical caricatures.
The movie Exodus singlehandedly solidified how American and Western audiences would forever define the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Israelis were “good” and the Arabs were “bad.” It’s an inaccurate imbalance that remains until today, many generations later.
This year, there are two interesting films competing for the Oscar in the documentary category: “5 Broken Cameras” and “The Gatekeepers”. 5 Broken Cameras was filmed and produced by a Palestinian farmer from the village of Bil’in, Emad Burnat. Burnat bought a camera to record the birth of his son in 2005, but he soon realized the power of film media and he began to record Israeli oppression. He filmed the construction of the Apartheid Wall, which Israel has used to separate Palestinian civilian populations from land and water wells in the occupied West Bank.
Soon he was recording the violence against him, his family and his village neighbors by Israel’s military and settler terrorists who are seeking to ethnically and religiously cleanse the West Bank of Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim. I haven’t seen the film yet, but I am hoping that I will be able to purchase a copy to watch the compelling real-life story. I don’t expect 5 Broken Cameras to “open” in American movie theaters the way Exodus did back in the 1960s. I know I will have to watch it on DVD, maybe even BluRay.
But I do hope it wins an Oscar, because the Oscar will propel the film to new heights of publicity and expose it’s story to more and more people in America and the West who are so uneducated about the reality of what Israel does every day to Palestinians.
The Gatekeepers is based on interviews with former leaders of Israel’s Shin Bet, which much like the Shah’s former Savak, is made up of brutal and vicious secret police who secretly arrest, detain, brutalize and even kill Palestinian dissidents who have tried to challenge Israel’s injustices over the years.
From what I have read about the film, the former Shin Bet leaders find their conscience after having left decision-making positions. Isn’t that always the case with Israelis? When they have the power to do right, they don’t. When they leave and are forced to look back at their crimes, second-thoughts seem to eat away at whatever is left of their morality. That sounds like a good idea for a documentary, too.
Yet sadly, documentaries which seek to tell the factual truth of events are not as popular as fictionalized stories like Exodus that take some grains of truth and weave them with yarns of lies to concoct false stereotypes and myths that seem to last far longer.
Still, it’s a beginning. But after more than six decades of waiting for “starts” to actually start, deep down I long for the time when someone in the Arab world will recognize the true power of communications as a weapon of truth that is far mightier than the scimitar in changing the minds of enemies and educating the uneducated masses.
Maybe someone should make a movie about it all.
— Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist. He can be reached at http://www.TheMediaOasis.com
Categories: Books & Films