The group fired off letters this week to key players behind director Clint Eastwood’s blockbuster contending its release is sparking a wave of anti-Arab hatred across the globe.
It’s hardly the first time the Arab community has come down hard on a Hollywood product. Here are five other instances where similar organizations cried foul over the portrayal of Arabs on the big screen.
- “The Siege” (1998): The Council on American-Islamic Relations cried foul when this Denzel Washington thriller hit theaters, saying the timing on the heels of recent embassy bombings made its release more than problematic. The movie followed the fallout from a terrorist attack, including events that recalled the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Plus, the group claimed the movie painted a stereotypical treatment of Arabs, despite the fact that one of the film’s heroes, played by Tony Shalhoub, was an Arab-American. Director Edward Zwick defended his movie to The LA Times: “The point of this movie is to take a hard look at this country, our country, its prejudices, its stereotyping and oppression … But not talking about these things is the worst thing we can do–to deny the function of art to be provocative is just as oppressive and wrong.”
- “True Lies” (1994): Director James Cameron’s spy romp starring Arnold Schwarzenegger sparked fury among Arab groups. Protesters claimed the movie made Arabs look like, “violent, anti-American zealots,” according to The New York Times. The film’s positive portrayal of a character who appears to be of Middle Eastern descent was dubbed ”an Arab Stepin Fetchit” by the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Ibrahim Hooper.
- “Father of the Bride II (1995): The sequel to Steve Martin’s 1991 hit drew the ire of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee for a minor character’s behavior. Mr. Habib, played by Eugene Levy, gave Martin’s character fits in a way the group found stereotypical and offensive.
- “The Dictator” (2012): Sacha Baron Cohen’s broad force found plenty of blowback from both film critics and Arabs. The comic actor’s performance as a cruel, misogynistic North African dictator inflamed Jack Shaheen, author of “Guilty: Hollywood’s Verdict on Arabs After 9/11,” as well as other cultural critics.
- “Aladdin” (1992): The Disney animated hit caught heat for both its song lyrics and creative choices. Disney nipped a line from one number which originally said, “they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face,” regarding elements of Arab culture. Other critics bemoaned how the hero spoke without an accent, but the more villainous characters featured strong, cartoonish accents.