Hollywood fantasies dangerous to reality

Last Friday the movie “The Siege” opened around the nation. People, many from the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, staged protests against the stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims prevalent throughout the film. The movie industry’s argument that entertainment is partially exempt from social responsibility is flawed.
“The Siege” blatantly depicts Arabs as violent and fanatical, displaying their religion as an ancient, backward, barbarous institution hell-bent on pitting themselves against the West.
The movie industry is notorious for portraying stereotypes in the name of entertainment. The 1970s saw “Shaft” and “Dolemite” entertaining, yet also condescending, movies portraying the black man as a womanizer and a player. The 1980s brought a resurgence of East German spies and Russian villains.
Now in the latter half of the 1990s, the stereotypical Arab/Muslim has been the industry favorite. Arabs are the new perceived enemy. It is their turn to be vilified by the American media and movie industries.
Hollywood studios should be held responsible for the messages their movies convey. The industry should reconsider the assumption that entertainment value is a valid justification for blatantly stereotyping minority groups. This Hollywood tradition of casting groups into prefabricated molds reinforces ignorance, increases tension and angers already marginalized groups.
Movies with large budgets, amazing special effects and big name stars are released with one goal in mind, reaching the largest audience possible. When so many people view these movies, the films themselves help define our culture’s perceptions as people take to heart the ideas, attitudes and stereotypes of the movie.
Hollywood hopes the public can discern which parts of a movie are based in reality and which in fantasy. The simple fact is that with action films based in a world so closely similar to our own, the line that separates the two worlds becomes dangerously blurred. Messages that were not meant to be taken beyond the theater doors become embedded in our popular subconscious.
Patently ridiculous action movies such as “True Lies” may be considered exempt from responsibility, but in the case of “The Siege,” the film’s director, Ed Zwick, has stated that he “went to extraordinary lengths to be thoughtful.”
Shouldn’t a “thoughtful” movie be held accountable for the message it sends?
Hollywood must stay aware of the powerful effects a movie can have. Rather than riding the bandwagon of government sentiment toward a particular group of people, the entertainment industry must strive for independence and creativity. A series of movies vilifying Arabs is as insightful as a slew of natural disaster flicks. If anything, movies that unfavorably stereotype groups are more dangerous for the biased insight that they do carry.
Hollywood must learn to responsibly recognize the messages contained in its big budget films. Portraying stereotypes under the guise of entertainment is a disservice to everyone, potentially ostracizing an entire race of people.