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Your essay should be between 1500 and 2000 words. You must include a Works Cited page, NOT an Annotated Bibliography. Your Works Cited page does not contribute to your word count. You must cite at least five secondary sources, including at least three scholarly articles (peer-reviewed). You may use as many essays from the texts as you want, but you may only count one of them toward your five-source minimum. You may use dictionaries or encyclopedias (including Wikipedia), but they are probably unnecessary and they do not count as part of your five sources. Conduct research on the representation of race, gender, sexual orientation, and/or ethnicity in American culture, particularly in movies or television. Your essay should pursue some of the following questions, though not all of them will be relevant, and many more will present themselves as you conduct your research: How do these images and representations affect the mainstream American perceptions of race, gender, sexual orientation, or culture? What effects do these representations have on the cultures and groups being represented? Your primary sources can be one of the following: 1. An analysis of a single movie (e.g. representations of sexual identity in Brokeback Mountain) 2. A comparison of no more than two movies. (e.g. aliens as stand-ins for minorities in science fiction) 3. An analysis of a television series, focusing on between one and three episodes. (e.g. representations of socioeconomic status in Orange is the New Black)
6 -8 pages
Muslims in American Cinema:
In the past 15 years America has been engaged in the War on Terror, the most common enemy in this war are Muslim extremist. This has led to an increase, and possible negative exposure for the Muslim culture in American cinema. In American cinema we have come to relate Muslims not with the religion, but with the extreme terrorist acts that are seen in movies such as Zero Dark Thirty, Act of Valor, American Sniper, and The Kingdom. Something very common about these films is they are all military action films that take place in the post 9/11 War on Terror. American cinema has not changed its representation of Muslims, the industry is only catering to the culture that thrives off of action film, and dramatizing the enemy that America is fighting in the War on Terror, it is unfortunate that this enemy fights for a misrepresentation of Islam.
Following the post Afghan-Russian war in the late 1980’s Osama bin Laden found himself on a mission for Jihad, or as he would interpret Jihad, a Holy War. This led to bin Laden establishing The Base, or in the Arabic tongue, Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda was a way for bin Laden to spread his own subjective interpretations of Islam, recruiting followers from around the world. Al Qaeda would take credit for many global attacks following the end of the Afghan-Russian war, it’s most deadly taking place on September 11th, 2001. In the aftermath of 9/11 “more than 2,600 people died […] [at the hands of] 19 hijackers.” (National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States). All 19 hijackers pledge allegiance to Al Qaeda, and carried out their acts for Islam. This attack put blinders on Americans as all could think about is how 19 Muslims killed more than 2,600 people on American soil in just one day. Rubina Ramji examines the role of Muslims in American film and finds that
“[a]fter 9/11, many North Americans turned to popular media outlets to better ‘understand’ the religion of Islam and the terrorist motivations of these Muslims. Instead of illustrating a highly diversified Islam, these outlets seemed to merely confirm the existing stereotypes” (9).
Ramji identifies the unjust truth, a truth that Muslims are misrepresented in film, just as their religion may have been misinterpreted by the terrorist who carried out the attacks.
After the attacks on 9/11 the American military entered a multi-front war throughout the world. With Afghanistan and Iraq riding the front pages, both of which were Islamic States. News outlets televised how young Muslims from around the world join Jihad against the west in Iraq. The most common enemy in this war is misled Muslims in street clothes, not Nazi Germans, or Russian military, the common denominator for the enemy of the state is that they are all Muslims who fight in the name of Jihad. Popular World War 2 movies such as: Mrs. Miniver, The Negro Solider, The Purple Heart, and many more all dramatized the representation of Germans and Japanese, the American enemies. It seems only logical to fuel support for the World on Terror by exaggerating the representation of the American enemy, who so happens to share one common trait, being Muslim.
In Post 9/11 cinema we have seen Muslim terrorist represented in films such as: The Hurt Locker, The Kingdom, The Green Zone, Zero Dark Thirty, Lone Survivor, American Sniper, Iron Man and many more that are action packed, war driven movies. Although all these movies depict the American enemy as an angry, dark hair, dark skinned Muslims, some bring to light that not all Muslims are terrorist. In The Kingdom, Jamie Foxx’s character befriends his Saudi Arabian counterpart a Muslim played by Ashraf Barhom (who ironically is Israeli). Viewers see Barhom’s characters normal life, his normal family, and his normal values. Although many of the war driven films portray Muslims as the barbaric terrorist, many like The Kingdom pay tribute to the brethren-in-arms against this enemy who themselves are Muslim.
All the movies mentioned above were box office hits, grossing millions for the production companies that produce them. In capitalism America, it would only make sense to continue to produce movies that a company knows will make money, and action-packed war films do the trick. In Dr. Kerem Bayraktaroğlu’s analysis titled The Muslim Male Character Typology in American Cinema Post-9/11, he concludes
[t]he fact that movies reduced the diversity of Muslims and their multiple cultural experiences into a two-dimensional Arab stereotype can only be explained as America’s fixation with Arabs and Islam. However, there are signs showing that this is changing. Despite the fact that movies released post-9/11 still involve some “cardboard” characters, emphasis has recently been placed on presenting a diverse commonality of ideas that form the basis in which the character of the “other” and “self ” share a deeper understanding of and respect for one another. (358)
Although Muslims may have been misrepresented in cinema thought the dramatization of the Muslim extremist, Muslims are becoming more complex and diverse in their representation in American cinema.
An example of American cinema that has a positive representation of Muslims is the movie The Kite Runner, a father-son movie about a Muslim father and his son who flee Russian occupied Afghanistan in the 1980’s. This movie identifies the complexity of an Islamic State culture, and the own inner cultural and racial tension that are seen within this society. It shows Muslims as people with guilt, grief, excitement, values, and anger just the same as if it were a film about a Christian family from suburbia America. The Kite Runner won 6 awards and 23 nominations, The Kingdom only walked away with 5 nominations. Based off of these statistics one can argue that the former was more popular than the latter, however, one would be wrong. The Kingdom had an American box office gross of over $47,000,000, while The Kite Runner had an American box office gross of just under $16,000,000. Money talks, and The Kingdom is without a doubt more popular in America then the award winning film The Kite Runner.
Since 9/11 the War on Terror has not slowed, currently Iraq is falling at the hands of the newest group to claim global Jihad, Europe has fallen victim to multiple terrorist attacks, Syria has collapsed, Turkey is fallen apart, and many have been publically tortured and beheaded at the hands of a common enemy, Muslim extremist. It would be unfair to blame American cinema for the poor portrayal of Muslims. Americans enjoy action, action is going on around the world, and the capitalist can profit by dramatizing the global action into a movie for Americans to watch. The blame is not for Hollywood to take, but for the individuals who do their religion unjust. However, Hollywood can continue to progress in representing Muslims in a more positive light. This can be accomplished by allow viewers to see Muslim characters other than terrorist. Let audiences see Muslims as humans with emotions and families, humans with jobs and commitments, humans with ethical and religious beliefs. These characters do not ever have to be the center of the movie, just like The Kingdom did it allows viewers to relate and build emotions other than anger for Muslim characters. For Salih Sayilgan writes “Through immigration, conversion, and birth, however, Muslims are America’s fastest growing religious groups. America’s six to eight million Muslims frequent more than 2.000 mosques, Islamic Centers, and schools.” (par. 10).
Mainstream America is vulnerable to developing a bias at the hands of social media, news outlets, and entertainment media such as television, movies, and radio. Mainstream America as demonstrated this with law enforcement, politics, and Catholic Priest. When a few law enforcement officers are caught abusing their powers the entire community is scolded. When a politician is caught cheating on his wife, or taking bribes, all politicians are labeled. When a few Catholic Priest are accused of molesting young boys, every other Priest is seen as a possible pedophile. When 19 Muslims kill over 2,600 people, one has to find it hard for Mainstream America to not become one bit bias. A bias like this is something that takes a larger industry then Hollywood to combat. It takes Muslims leaders meeting with leaders of other religions; teachers teaching acceptance and the truth behind such extreme organizations; and lastly, Hollywood continuing to emphasize and cast he complex role of the real Muslim. All this can be accomplished while still delivering the action packed movie that depicts the Muslim extremist of the modern day War on Terror and their false representation of the religion, almost win-win for the industry and the religion.
With the background and data that has been presented, it is easier to see why American cinema has not changed its representation of Muslims, the industry is only catering to the culture that thrives off of action film, and dramatizing the enemy that America is fighting in the War on Terror, it is unfortunate that this enemy fights for a misrepresentation of Islam. This will change, even with the rise of violent acts at the hands of Muslim extremist around the globe. Organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Islamic Society of North America, the Muslim American Society, and many more are continuing to advocate on equal rights and representation for Muslims in America. The War on Terror is one of the longer runner conflicts that America has engaged in, and it is inevitable for people not to capitalize off of it. However, in the end there is an unjust representation of Muslims in American cinema, with all data aside Muslims are not equally represented as any other religion.
Bayraktarolu, Kerem. “The Muslim Male Character Typology in American Cinema Post-9/11.” Domes; Digest of Middle East Studies (Online) 23.2 (2014): 345-59.ProQuest. Web.
Ramjo, Rubina. “Examining the Critical Role American Popular Film Continues to Play in Maintaining the Muslim Terrorist Image, Post 9/11” Journal of Religion and Film” 20.