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The Arab: No More Mister Bad Guy?

September 14, 1986|CHRIS TRICARICO and MARISON MULL

O utside the Israeli Embassy in Jemal, the Arab cinches a pillow case over a guard's head and shoots him through the gray matter. Blood and flesh fly in the vortex of the explosion and nothing can stop Garvil, the killer, and his accomplice girlfriend.

They slip into the back of the ambassador's house, and the maid is dispatched with a gun with a silencer. The ambassador sends his young son to investigate the dishes clattering to the kitchen floor--and the girlfriend guns down the boy with an Uzi automatic.

The ambassador scurries for a gun and the Arab blasts him backward through the window .

The wife clutches their screaming little girl as they are torn up in a round of machine-gun fire that splatters blood and flesh onto herring bone china and Louis XIV furniture.

Blood mixes with wine dripping from the lily-white table cloth.

This is one grisly scene, among others, from "Death Before Dishonor," a coming New World Pictures killer-action-adventure that pits American Marines against terrorists who are trying to take over a fictional Middle Eastern country named Jemal. Marines are taken hostage and Fred Dryer (ex-Ram, now "Hunter" TV star) has to get his buddies out.

It's the latest in a string of Hollywood productions that imitate real-life terrorism while exploiting anti-Arab sentiment and fear of attacks and hijackings abroad--a mood heightened by the horrific assaults last weekend in Istanbul and Karachi and the kidnaping of American educator Frank Reed in Beirut.

Each new atrocity overseas and the ensuing news coverage keep sinister and violent images of Arabs fresh in the public mind. And those sinister images--much to the dismay of the 2.5 million Americans of Arab descent--are quickly transferred to the big and small screens of Hollywood.

Arab-American leaders are concerned about the images presented in the name of "entertainment" and are trying to figure out ways to stop the trend of stereotyping anybody of Arab descent.

"I have never seen a smiling Arab on the screen, a sincere smiling Arab, a loving Arab, never!" said Syrian-American film maker Moustafa Akkad.

"If he is smiling, it is only out of conniving, plotting or murderous reasons and these images have obviously affected the (American) people" by fueling their prejudice, said Akkad, who served as producer-director of "Lion of the Desert" (1981), about Libyan national hero Omar Mukhtar, and "Mohammad, Messenger of God" (1977), both of which starred Anthony Quinn and Irene Pappas. Both films were Arab-financed.

"In the film industry there used to be three baddies--the Red Indians, the Germans and the Arabs. These were always the evil, the stupid or the murderers." The Indians have been eliminated and the Germans have gone out of vogue as bad guys and that leaves the Arabs as the only safe scapegoat, he said.

As a result, "You take any man on the street today and ask him, 'What's an Arab?' and right away, of course, he says he is a terrorist," said Akkad.

Akkad is frightened not only by the acceptability of the anti-Arab image, but also by the new genre of productions that has cropped up in Hollywood in an attempt to capitalize on the widespread public hysteria over terrorism, he said.

Some examples of productions that exploit the Arab stereotype, showing them as everything from terrorists to bumbling idiots:

"Iron Eagle" is about an angry young man who takes an F-16 jet fighter plane to rescue his father who has been captured by an Arab faction. One Arab takes an American hostage and beats him to death. Everybody but the Americans got slammed in this one, especially Arabs.

"The Delta Force," based loosely on the TWA flight 847 hijacking, chronicles attempts by the elite Delta Force to rescue an all-star cast of innocent American hostages. Super-hero Chuck Norris comes out of retirement to take on Abdul Rafai, commander in the New World Revolutionary Cells, whose amoral Arab terrorists brutalize everyone on board in their maniacal attempt to wield revenge against the "Devil"--America. The Arabs are shown as sweaty, hairy and bearded schizophrenics, who speak in broken English and praise God for all their actions against Americans and Jews.

"Under Siege," a TV movie, features a terrorist cell working out of the Detroit suburb of Dearborn. Although the story is fictional, the terrorist group's name, coincidentally, is the name of a real organization. Detroit has the largest Arab population in the U.S.

"Jewel of the Nile," starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner (in the sequel to "Romancing the Stone"), puts romance novelist Joan Wilder in the deserts of Morocco with bumbling, stooge-like Arabs named Tarak, Barak, Karak, Arak and Sarak. Turner and Douglas fight against Omar, a Kadafi-like bad guy.

Arab culture has always been exotic to Westerners, evoking Hollywood images of bosomy belly dancers, lustful sheiks, Arabian knights and artful saber-swingers. Recall Valentino in "The Sheik" and Omar Shariff in "Lawrence of Arabia" in 1962.

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