Film promotes military agenda
Behind Hardenbergh Hall there is a flyer advertising a free preview of the new Ryan Reynolds film "Buried." It's not to be released until Oct. 6, but being the lucky University students we are, we have ourselves a preview.
In the film Reynolds plays Paul Conroy, a U.S. contractor in Iraq who, after a terrorist attack, wakes up buried alive in a coffin. From the tagline — "170,000 SQ miles of desert. 90 minutes of Oxygen. No way out" — I would guess he stays there for about 89 minutes.
This intrigued me. I found myself thinking, "Hey, despite his exquisite bone structure, can I really look at Ryan Reynolds for 90 minutes inside a coffin?" The synopsis online only talks about his character. What else would there be to watch? Then it clicked. It's set in Iraq. From there I began to think of other movies about this fabled Arabia or its people and came to these conclusions.
There will probably be one scene in which a Muslim kidnaps an American, another in which an inept Arab bundles a plot to kill one or several innocent people, and several shots of haze over the desert. And, if this movie were produced 40 to 50 years ago, there'd probably be a few belly dancers and snake charmers — maybe a harem or two.
In short, I guarantee this movie will — or already did — offend. And as if my own intuitions weren't enough, the National Security Agency funded it.
Governmental organizations have a long history of funding Hollywood. Military films during World War II were produced in Hollywood by some of the biggest directors of the era, including Frank Capra's series "Why We Fight." They made a few favorites later, including "True Lies" starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, "Executive Decision" with Kurt Russell and Halle Berry, and even "Rules of Engagement" with Samuel L. Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones. However, unequivocally, all three of these movies demonize Muslims. "True Lies" features the "Crimson Jihad," a terrorist network run by Salim Abu Aziz who, at a moment of great Arab buffoonery, threatens to destroy America with the turn of a key which he realizes, on national television, is missing. "Executive Decision" features a crew of Arab terrorists who, in cold blood, hijack a 747 as part of a plot to free their imprisoned leader and seem to spend a peculiar amount of time focusing their violence on Jewish passengers. And finally, "Rules of Engagement" takes the righteous-American-vs-terrible-Arab plot to a new level. The movie features Jackson as an American marine who orders the use of mass force against protesting Arabs. Jones is the one to uncover for the courts, however — and this, readers, is a spoiler warning — that it was actually the blood-thirsty, freedom-hating Arabs who fired upon us, first.
Don't get me wrong; these movies fascinate me. "True Lies" is one of Arnold's more entertaining flicks out there. I get it on cable back home all the time and, whenever I see it, I stop and watch. "Rules of Engagement" is also great, but that's not the issue.
The issue is that even though the Department of Defense funds some of the most Islamophobic movies out there, Hollywood has a long, largely uninterrupted history of stereotyping and demonizing Arabs, Muslims and other groups. Even some of my childhood favorites, including the "Aladdin" trilogy and the first "Back to the Future," fall into the same problem of categorizing Arabs as either lustfully bumbling or violently bumbling. In "Aladdin," look no further than the opening lyrics, or perhaps the scene where a lecherous Jafar hypnotizes princess Jasmine and turns her into a slave — or his one-woman harem. In "Back to the Future," the first McFly-Doc Brown meeting shows an inept Libyan Nationalist attempt, and failure, to gun down Marty.
This trend leaves me little hope for "Buried" and less hope for the cultural state of the United States. It seems to me that this history of demonization in Hollywood has laid the perfect backdrop for the political demonization to follow. These films and media images wove a narrative for the image of Arabs in America. It's a narrative of the Arab being violent but inept, lustful but bumbling, and, most of all, unfit for American morality. It's a narrative that facilitated the substantial increase in hate crimes against Muslims since 2001, justified wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also precluded images of moral American Muslims who are intelligent, working-class members of a society where popular media, again and again, creates a narrow and unjust stereotype.
So with "Buried" only two weeks from its full release in the wake of innumerable racially charged conflicts — NYC's Mosque, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, to name a few — history has turned perfectly for Islamophobes. In "Buried" we will most likely see Arabs again in like of the same Hollywood stereotype: Greedy, lustful, cold-blooded and, ultimately, fundamentally inept. And though doubtful I am, please, Hollywood, prove me wrong.
Patrick Danner is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in English and minoring in Italian. His column, "Stoop Musings," runs on alternate Fridays.