Sick of Hollywood’s Mideast stereotypes? Check out these 8 made-in-MENA movies

Published July 16th, 2015 - 14:21 GMT

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Wisps of pink smoke rise from an unseen candle as mysterious snake-charming music evokes the sensual moves of a belly dancer. The smoke dissipates, making way for a vast landscape of rolling sand dunes where a lone camel plods through a dust storm, casting an eerie shadow.  

I come from a land, from a faraway place, where the caravan camels roam. Where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face — it’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.”  (continue reading below) Continue reading below »

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If you’re tired of Aladdin: It might be one of our all time favorite Disney hits, but that doesn’t excuse Aladdin from its silly and often inaccurate portrayal of Islamic civilization, where people casually get their ears chopped off.
Reduce

Image 1 of 16:  1 / 16If you’re tired of Aladdin: It might be one of our all time favorite Disney hits, but that doesn’t excuse Aladdin from its silly and often inaccurate portrayal of Islamic civilization, where people casually get their ears chopped off.

Enlarge
Then watch Waltz with Bashir: It’s animated, but far from a silly cartoon. Controversial for its sympathetic portrayal of an Israeli soldier and banned in Lebanon for just about everything else, this poetic movie about the 1982 invasion of Lebanon covers the horrors of the Sabra and Shatila massacre.
Reduce

Image 2 of 16:  2 / 16Then watch Waltz with Bashir: It’s animated, but far from a silly cartoon. Controversial for its sympathetic portrayal of an Israeli soldier and banned in Lebanon for just about everything else, this poetic movie about the 1982 invasion of Lebanon covers the horrors of the Sabra and Shatila massacre.

Enlarge
If you’re tired of Argo: While this period thriller was critically acclaimed for its depiction of the 1979-81 Iran hostage crisis, it does little to redeem the abiding image of Iran as a dark, scary place. We hardly hear any Iranian voices, except those of angry black-clad street protesters waving their fists in the air and burning US flags.
Reduce

Image 3 of 16:  3 / 16If you’re tired of Argo: While this period thriller was critically acclaimed for its depiction of the 1979-81 Iran hostage crisis, it does little to redeem the abiding image of Iran as a dark, scary place. We hardly hear any Iranian voices, except those of angry black-clad street protesters waving their fists in the air and burning US flags.

Enlarge
Then watch Nobody Knows About Persian Cats: Filmed in secret, this musical odyssey follows a pair of young indie songwriters in Tehran looking to form a band so they can perform abroad. They meet a spectrum of underground artists while on their quest, from metalheads to rappers to traditional Persian musicians. Take a dip into young, hip Iran!
Reduce

Image 4 of 16:  4 / 16Then watch Nobody Knows About Persian Cats: Filmed in secret, this musical odyssey follows a pair of young indie songwriters in Tehran looking to form a band so they can perform abroad. They meet a spectrum of underground artists while on their quest, from metalheads to rappers to traditional Persian musicians. Take a dip into young, hip Iran!

Enlarge
If you’re tired of Zero Dark Thirty: A narrative that pits an angelic red-head Jessica Chastain against the scary Muslim 'other' in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, this film justifies torture and features a terrorist-centric plotline. Really there’s nothing new here.
Reduce

Image 5 of 16:  5 / 16If you’re tired of Zero Dark Thirty: A narrative that pits an angelic red-head Jessica Chastain against the scary Muslim 'other' in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, this film justifies torture and features a terrorist-centric plotline. Really there’s nothing new here.

Enlarge
Then watch Paradise Now: This movie is for those who want a nuanced, albeit controversial look into the “terrorists” themselves from the perpetrator’s point of view. The film follows a pair of best friends from Nablus on a mission to carry out a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv and tells a vital story about the people behind suicide attacks.
Reduce

Image 6 of 16:  6 / 16Then watch Paradise Now: This movie is for those who want a nuanced, albeit controversial look into the “terrorists” themselves from the perpetrator’s point of view. The film follows a pair of best friends from Nablus on a mission to carry out a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv and tells a vital story about the people behind suicide attacks.

Enlarge
If you’re tired of American Sniper: Arabs as a people are reduced to targets in the crosshairs of a sniper gun. Iraq is apparently a dusty wasteland of violence where a buff US Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) shoots young children in the name of fulfilling duty.
Reduce

Image 7 of 16:  7 / 16If you’re tired of American Sniper: Arabs as a people are reduced to targets in the crosshairs of a sniper gun. Iraq is apparently a dusty wasteland of violence where a buff US Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) shoots young children in the name of fulfilling duty.

Enlarge
Then watch Voices of Iraq: This innovative documentary uses handheld video cameras dispersed around Iraq in 2003, after the fall of Saddam Hussein.  Though the film falls victim to pro-USA invasion optimism, it’s a rare glimpse into the everyday lives of Iraqis from all walks of life, who tell their own stories.
Reduce

Image 8 of 16:  8 / 16Then watch Voices of Iraq: This innovative documentary uses handheld video cameras dispersed around Iraq in 2003, after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Though the film falls victim to pro-USA invasion optimism, it’s a rare glimpse into the everyday lives of Iraqis from all walks of life, who tell their own stories.

Enlarge
If you’re tired of The Mummy: Apparently, Egypt is all about computer-animated mummies and contrived magical ancient tombs that white people are somehow allowed to raid with the help of strangely patient Arab servants.
Reduce

Image 9 of 16:  9 / 16If you’re tired of The Mummy: Apparently, Egypt is all about computer-animated mummies and contrived magical ancient tombs that white people are somehow allowed to raid with the help of strangely patient Arab servants.

Enlarge
Then watch The Band’s Visit: Forget mummies and pharaohs. In this quietly hilarious flick, we follow a police orchestra from Alexandria, Egypt that visits Israel to perform at an Arab cultural center. When the group gets lost in the middle of nowhere, they spend the night in a dusty town bonding with locals.
Reduce

Image 10 of 16:  10 / 16Then watch The Band’s Visit: Forget mummies and pharaohs. In this quietly hilarious flick, we follow a police orchestra from Alexandria, Egypt that visits Israel to perform at an Arab cultural center. When the group gets lost in the middle of nowhere, they spend the night in a dusty town bonding with locals.

Enlarge
If you’re tired of Sex and the City 2: The Middle East is “so cutting edge in so many ways, and so backwards when it comes to sex,” Samantha says on a dinner date in Abu Dhabi. Maybe so, but this chick flick gets it all wrong, painting a comically misguided and reductionalist picture of sex-hating Arabs and laws against owning condoms.
Reduce

Image 11 of 16:  11 / 16If you’re tired of Sex and the City 2: The Middle East is “so cutting edge in so many ways, and so backwards when it comes to sex,” Samantha says on a dinner date in Abu Dhabi. Maybe so, but this chick flick gets it all wrong, painting a comically misguided and reductionalist picture of sex-hating Arabs and laws against owning condoms.

Enlarge
Then watch May in the Summer: Still want a chick flick? In this film, a Christian woman (yes, Arab Christians exist!) returns home to Jordan to marry her Muslim fiance. There's healthy romance, a lesbian sister (openly gay people exist too!), moderate amounts of alcohol (also available!), and commentary on Christian-Muslim tensions in the Levant.
Reduce

Image 12 of 16:  12 / 16Then watch May in the Summer: Still want a chick flick? In this film, a Christian woman (yes, Arab Christians exist!) returns home to Jordan to marry her Muslim fiance. There's healthy romance, a lesbian sister (openly gay people exist too!), moderate amounts of alcohol (also available!), and commentary on Christian-Muslim tensions in the Levant.

Enlarge
If you’re tired of Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark: This movie is a beloved classic, but why is it the duty of some white dude to take ancient artifacts from a foreign country? (According to good old Indiana Jones: “It belongs in a museum!”)  And why the same old orientalist images of sword-wielding Arabs haggling in chaotic bazaars?
Reduce

Image 13 of 16:  13 / 16If you’re tired of Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark: This movie is a beloved classic, but why is it the duty of some white dude to take ancient artifacts from a foreign country? (According to good old Indiana Jones: “It belongs in a museum!”) And why the same old orientalist images of sword-wielding Arabs haggling in chaotic bazaars?

Enlarge
Then watch The Time that Remains: Here’s a more nuanced, intimate, and beautifully filmed portrayal of 20th century Arab history. Follow a Palestinian family from the creation of Israel to the present, while the hardship of occupation weaves itself into sunny nostalgic images of family life in historically-Christian Nazareth.
Reduce

Image 14 of 16:  14 / 16Then watch The Time that Remains: Here’s a more nuanced, intimate, and beautifully filmed portrayal of 20th century Arab history. Follow a Palestinian family from the creation of Israel to the present, while the hardship of occupation weaves itself into sunny nostalgic images of family life in historically-Christian Nazareth.

Enlarge
If you’re tired of Rules of Engagement: This mystery film about US Marines shooting dead 83 civilians in Yemen leaves the bigger mystery unsolved — Why is a movie based on story that takes place in Latin America set in Yemen? Some have named it “probably the most racist film ever made against Arabs by Hollywood.”
Reduce

Image 15 of 16:  15 / 16If you’re tired of Rules of Engagement: This mystery film about US Marines shooting dead 83 civilians in Yemen leaves the bigger mystery unsolved — Why is a movie based on story that takes place in Latin America set in Yemen? Some have named it “probably the most racist film ever made against Arabs by Hollywood.”

Enlarge
Then watch West Beyrouth: Let’s travel across a few borders to a different conflict zone — Lebanon in the 1970s. This semi-biographical film uses a child’s point of view to make a poignant statement about the sectarianism and loss of innocence wrought by armed conflict. It’s heartbreaking and sobering, but hilarious when it needs to be.
Reduce

Image 16 of 16:  16 / 16Then watch West Beyrouth: Let’s travel across a few borders to a different conflict zone — Lebanon in the 1970s. This semi-biographical film uses a child’s point of view to make a poignant statement about the sectarianism and loss of innocence wrought by armed conflict. It’s heartbreaking and sobering, but hilarious when it needs to be.

Enlarge

1

If you’re tired of Aladdin: It might be one of our all time favorite Disney hits, but that doesn’t excuse Aladdin from its silly and often inaccurate portrayal of Islamic civilization, where people casually get their ears chopped off.

Image 1 of 16If you’re tired of Aladdin: It might be one of our all time favorite Disney hits, but that doesn’t excuse Aladdin from its silly and often inaccurate portrayal of Islamic civilization, where people casually get their ears chopped off.

2

Then watch Waltz with Bashir: It’s animated, but far from a silly cartoon. Controversial for its sympathetic portrayal of an Israeli soldier and banned in Lebanon for just about everything else, this poetic movie about the 1982 invasion of Lebanon covers the horrors of the Sabra and Shatila massacre.

Image 2 of 16Then watch Waltz with Bashir: It’s animated, but far from a silly cartoon. Controversial for its sympathetic portrayal of an Israeli soldier and banned in Lebanon for just about everything else, this poetic movie about the 1982 invasion of Lebanon covers the horrors of the Sabra and Shatila massacre.

3

If you’re tired of Argo: While this period thriller was critically acclaimed for its depiction of the 1979-81 Iran hostage crisis, it does little to redeem the abiding image of Iran as a dark, scary place. We hardly hear any Iranian voices, except those of angry black-clad street protesters waving their fists in the air and burning US flags.

Image 3 of 16If you’re tired of Argo: While this period thriller was critically acclaimed for its depiction of the 1979-81 Iran hostage crisis, it does little to redeem the abiding image of Iran as a dark, scary place. We hardly hear any Iranian voices, except those of angry black-clad street protesters waving their fists in the air and burning US flags.

4

Then watch Nobody Knows About Persian Cats: Filmed in secret, this musical odyssey follows a pair of young indie songwriters in Tehran looking to form a band so they can perform abroad. They meet a spectrum of underground artists while on their quest, from metalheads to rappers to traditional Persian musicians. Take a dip into young, hip Iran!

Image 4 of 16Then watch Nobody Knows About Persian Cats: Filmed in secret, this musical odyssey follows a pair of young indie songwriters in Tehran looking to form a band so they can perform abroad. They meet a spectrum of underground artists while on their quest, from metalheads to rappers to traditional Persian musicians. Take a dip into young, hip Iran!

5

If you’re tired of Zero Dark Thirty: A narrative that pits an angelic red-head Jessica Chastain against the scary Muslim 'other' in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, this film justifies torture and features a terrorist-centric plotline. Really there’s nothing new here.

Image 5 of 16If you’re tired of Zero Dark Thirty: A narrative that pits an angelic red-head Jessica Chastain against the scary Muslim 'other' in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, this film justifies torture and features a terrorist-centric plotline. Really there’s nothing new here.

6

Then watch Paradise Now: This movie is for those who want a nuanced, albeit controversial look into the “terrorists” themselves from the perpetrator’s point of view. The film follows a pair of best friends from Nablus on a mission to carry out a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv and tells a vital story about the people behind suicide attacks.

Image 6 of 16Then watch Paradise Now: This movie is for those who want a nuanced, albeit controversial look into the “terrorists” themselves from the perpetrator’s point of view. The film follows a pair of best friends from Nablus on a mission to carry out a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv and tells a vital story about the people behind suicide attacks.

7

If you’re tired of American Sniper: Arabs as a people are reduced to targets in the crosshairs of a sniper gun. Iraq is apparently a dusty wasteland of violence where a buff US Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) shoots young children in the name of fulfilling duty.

Image 7 of 16If you’re tired of American Sniper: Arabs as a people are reduced to targets in the crosshairs of a sniper gun. Iraq is apparently a dusty wasteland of violence where a buff US Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) shoots young children in the name of fulfilling duty.

8

Then watch Voices of Iraq: This innovative documentary uses handheld video cameras dispersed around Iraq in 2003, after the fall of Saddam Hussein.  Though the film falls victim to pro-USA invasion optimism, it’s a rare glimpse into the everyday lives of Iraqis from all walks of life, who tell their own stories.

Image 8 of 16Then watch Voices of Iraq: This innovative documentary uses handheld video cameras dispersed around Iraq in 2003, after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Though the film falls victim to pro-USA invasion optimism, it’s a rare glimpse into the everyday lives of Iraqis from all walks of life, who tell their own stories.

9

If you’re tired of The Mummy: Apparently, Egypt is all about computer-animated mummies and contrived magical ancient tombs that white people are somehow allowed to raid with the help of strangely patient Arab servants.

Image 9 of 16If you’re tired of The Mummy: Apparently, Egypt is all about computer-animated mummies and contrived magical ancient tombs that white people are somehow allowed to raid with the help of strangely patient Arab servants.

10

Then watch The Band’s Visit: Forget mummies and pharaohs. In this quietly hilarious flick, we follow a police orchestra from Alexandria, Egypt that visits Israel to perform at an Arab cultural center. When the group gets lost in the middle of nowhere, they spend the night in a dusty town bonding with locals.

Image 10 of 16Then watch The Band’s Visit: Forget mummies and pharaohs. In this quietly hilarious flick, we follow a police orchestra from Alexandria, Egypt that visits Israel to perform at an Arab cultural center. When the group gets lost in the middle of nowhere, they spend the night in a dusty town bonding with locals.

11

If you’re tired of Sex and the City 2: The Middle East is “so cutting edge in so many ways, and so backwards when it comes to sex,” Samantha says on a dinner date in Abu Dhabi. Maybe so, but this chick flick gets it all wrong, painting a comically misguided and reductionalist picture of sex-hating Arabs and laws against owning condoms.

Image 11 of 16If you’re tired of Sex and the City 2: The Middle East is “so cutting edge in so many ways, and so backwards when it comes to sex,” Samantha says on a dinner date in Abu Dhabi. Maybe so, but this chick flick gets it all wrong, painting a comically misguided and reductionalist picture of sex-hating Arabs and laws against owning condoms.

12

Then watch May in the Summer: Still want a chick flick? In this film, a Christian woman (yes, Arab Christians exist!) returns home to Jordan to marry her Muslim fiance. There's healthy romance, a lesbian sister (openly gay people exist too!), moderate amounts of alcohol (also available!), and commentary on Christian-Muslim tensions in the Levant.

Image 12 of 16Then watch May in the Summer: Still want a chick flick? In this film, a Christian woman (yes, Arab Christians exist!) returns home to Jordan to marry her Muslim fiance. There's healthy romance, a lesbian sister (openly gay people exist too!), moderate amounts of alcohol (also available!), and commentary on Christian-Muslim tensions in the Levant.

13

If you’re tired of Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark: This movie is a beloved classic, but why is it the duty of some white dude to take ancient artifacts from a foreign country? (According to good old Indiana Jones: “It belongs in a museum!”)  And why the same old orientalist images of sword-wielding Arabs haggling in chaotic bazaars?

Image 13 of 16If you’re tired of Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark: This movie is a beloved classic, but why is it the duty of some white dude to take ancient artifacts from a foreign country? (According to good old Indiana Jones: “It belongs in a museum!”) And why the same old orientalist images of sword-wielding Arabs haggling in chaotic bazaars?

14

Then watch The Time that Remains: Here’s a more nuanced, intimate, and beautifully filmed portrayal of 20th century Arab history. Follow a Palestinian family from the creation of Israel to the present, while the hardship of occupation weaves itself into sunny nostalgic images of family life in historically-Christian Nazareth.

Image 14 of 16Then watch The Time that Remains: Here’s a more nuanced, intimate, and beautifully filmed portrayal of 20th century Arab history. Follow a Palestinian family from the creation of Israel to the present, while the hardship of occupation weaves itself into sunny nostalgic images of family life in historically-Christian Nazareth.

15

If you’re tired of Rules of Engagement: This mystery film about US Marines shooting dead 83 civilians in Yemen leaves the bigger mystery unsolved — Why is a movie based on story that takes place in Latin America set in Yemen? Some have named it “probably the most racist film ever made against Arabs by Hollywood.”

Image 15 of 16If you’re tired of Rules of Engagement: This mystery film about US Marines shooting dead 83 civilians in Yemen leaves the bigger mystery unsolved — Why is a movie based on story that takes place in Latin America set in Yemen? Some have named it “probably the most racist film ever made against Arabs by Hollywood.”

16

Then watch West Beyrouth: Let’s travel across a few borders to a different conflict zone — Lebanon in the 1970s. This semi-biographical film uses a child’s point of view to make a poignant statement about the sectarianism and loss of innocence wrought by armed conflict. It’s heartbreaking and sobering, but hilarious when it needs to be.

Image 16 of 16Then watch West Beyrouth: Let’s travel across a few borders to a different conflict zone — Lebanon in the 1970s. This semi-biographical film uses a child’s point of view to make a poignant statement about the sectarianism and loss of innocence wrought by armed conflict. It’s heartbreaking and sobering, but hilarious when it needs to be.

Reduce

Such begins the opening number of Disney’s Aladdin, an adventure story based on The Book of One Thousand and One Nights

For anyone who has spent time in the Middle East, those lyrics are laughable at best and racist at worst — and it doesn’t get much better anywhere you look in Hollywood. From crazed terrorist archetypes to repressed women and flying carpets, Hollywood just can’t seem to get the Middle East right.

Maybe it’s because the film industry is running out of convenient “bad guys” it can get away with. In the past, we’ve seen evil Nazis melt to death, conniving Soviets plot against the United States, and North Koreans attack the White House.

Nowadays, Hollywood’s convenient collective punching bag is Middle Easterners, whether they are Iranian street protesters, Arab airplane hijackers, or just crazy dudes with over-exaggerated, vaguely Arabic accents. Because of this, most Middle Eastern people we see in Western movies are scary, fanatic, antagonists with skewed perceptions of women’s rights.  

To balance things out a little, we’ve gathered together eight made-in-MENA movie suggestions that will shatter negative stereotypes made in Hollywood. And no — there are no flying carpets here.  

 

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