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After its first movie in 1911, Hollywood rose after centuries to the world-renowned Dream Factory, a name given due to the dreams that are created in their movies. Everyone knows Hollywood and has seen at least one of its movies. If you have seen more than one, it is conspicuous that most of the villains are Muslims. Moreover, Hollywood often becomes criticized for anti-Muslim propaganda. Plato once wrote, “Those who tell the stories also rule society.” (The Republic) So the question is: do they really support or make a concept of an Islamic enemy, or do they just adapt to public opinion? I am going to investigate the issue by using different movies and their worldwide popularity as an example and by showing the increase in fear of Islam after 9/11.
To properly understand whether Hollywood is producing anti-Muslim propaganda or not, different movies from different times need to be investigated. In 1985, Marty McFly, the main protagonist of Back to the Future, flees from Libyan terrorists who kill the doc. In 1994, in the movie True Lies, Arnold Schwarzenegger fights against Muslim terrorists who want to get their hands on a nuclear weapon, and they kill innocent people just for the sake of killing. In 2006, George Clooney tries to stop Muslim terrorists from building a bomb in the movie Syriana. The website middleeastmonitor.com even mentions the movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a movie for kids, because the villains use the Palestinian Keffiyeh scarf as part of their uniform. That is to say that all of these movies support the concept of an Islamic enemy besides Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which has no real connection to Islam at all. On the other hand, there are also movies in favor of Islam; Syriana, for example, does not only show the evil Muslim terrorist; it also shows a young, open minded gulf prince. In 1992, the autobiography of Malcolm X shows how Islam positively changed his life, even though other Muslims kill him in the end. However, Malcolm X shows that there are also positive sides to Islam. The most interesting fact is that Malcolm X is based on a true story and therefore shows a completely different view of Islam. Kingdom of Heaven is a historical, fictional movie and shows the gratitude of Saladin, a very important Islamic figure of the past. Thus, there are also movies in favor of Islam. There are two other movies that need to be mentioned, also based on a true story like Malcolm X, and its reaction in the Middle East. Not Without My Daughter is a movie from 1991 about an American mother who escaped from Iran with her daughter. She married an Iranian doctor in America and after they went to Iran, she was forced through violence to stay and obey. In Iran the movie was banned because of the way mullahs were portrayed and how women were treated under the sharia law. Although the movie only shows the reality of one woman, it was banned. In a more liberal and open minded country, they would accept that people watch movies like that and have their own opinion of their culture. They would trust that the people make the right decision, but instead, they censored what really happened. Another movie which was banned in Iran, without any American hero, is The Stoning of Soraya M. It shows another part of Iranian history where Soraya, the main character, will be stoned because her husband tells lies about her in order to marry a 14 year old girl. It is evident why that movie was banned: otherwise the people could reconsider stoning, which is still a punishment in Iran, as unacceptable when someone is obviously innocent. That said, in some Islamic countries, it is not desired that the people question their own culture or that movies criticize their religion. That means that not only Hollywood, but also the Muslim side arouses suspicion. Nevertheless, the movies are circulating in the underground. Maybe the ban increases excitement to watch those movies.
How did the relationship toward Islam change in America after 9/11? Soon after the events of 9/11, a public survey indicated that 47 percent of Americans had a favorable view of Islam. Since then, the number has dropped constantly; by 2010, it was already at 37 percent and in 2014, one year after the Boston Marathon Bombing, the number reached 27 percent. One reason for that could be the rising Islamophobia in America; Islamophobia means the “dislike or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force.” (oxforddictionaries.com) Another reason might be that many American citizens expect Muslims to condemn the terrorists’ attacks publicly. When Muslim leaders hold a press conference and denounce terrorism, for example to condemn the doings of ISIS, they only get a few minutes in the media, which means that they are hardly noticed. Therefore, the quintessence of this survey is that the majority has an unfavorable view of Islam and Muslims. Even though after 9/11 former President George W. Bush announced that Muslim Americans should be treated with respect, he could not stop the falling numbers.
Comparing Google results, Islam seems to be less criticized than other religions or even nations. If one searches for “is Hollywood anti Christian” 5.910.000 results pop up; the first three are “How should a Christian respond to Hollywood?”, “Why Hollywood hates Christians” and “The Lego Movie: One of the most anti-Christian movies ever”. “Is Hollywood anti German” has 4.580.000 results and the first three results are “Is Hollywood anti German”, “Anti German Sentiment” and “Why are only anti German movies being made?” On the contrary the search for “is Hollywood anti Islam” has 4.070.000 results and the first three results are: “Hollywood’s anti Arab and anti Muslim propaganda”, “Media Hoax Claims ‘American Sniper’ inspired anti Muslim threat” and “Hollywood shoots Arabs: the movie – Al Jazeera English”. (google.com) These searches show that Hollywood seems to be anti everything besides anti black, because no one seems to consider Hollywood to be anti black for what reason ever. Even the first three results explain much about how popular the question is, and that the results are actually about the searched topic. The search for “is Hollywood anti German” seems to be discussed in general whereas the search for “is Hollywood anti Islam” shows that two of the three results discus only one special movie. In the end, Muslims seem to be less criticized than Germans or Christians despite the fact that there are more Muslims than Germans or Christians all over the world.
In conclusion, even if there might be more Hollywood movies with Muslim villains than with Muslim heroes, or at least kind Muslims, the assumption that Hollywood is anti Islam seems ridiculous. As already mentioned Hollywood seems to be anti everything if one searches long enough on the internet. In order to answer the question from the beginning, one must consider that there are also Muslims in Hollywood movies cast in a favorable light, that the antipathy of Americans toward Muslims is rising, that Muslims are not the only ones being “discriminated” against by Hollywood and that there are Islamic countries banning movies due to the threat Plato discussed in “The Republic”, though these movies depict real life. According to those reasons, it is almost obvious that Hollywood adapts to public opinion. If one considers that most of the violence in the world happens in the eastern part nowadays, it seems to be plausible to use more violent people known by everyone through the news as villains. Making movies politically correct would make them boring and less interesting. At least we have to reconsider that movies are just fiction, besides the ones based on true stories from which we can learn, and we should not take them too seriously. In the end, Hollywood is just a Dream Factory.
Abdo, Geneive. Mecca and Main Street Muslim Life in America after 9/11. Oxford University Press, 2006.
Green, Todd H. The Fear of Islam: An Introduction to Islamophobia in the West. Fortress Press, 2015.
Plato. The Republic. 380 BC.
Obeidallah, Dean. “13 Years After 9/11, Anti-Muslim Bigotry Is Worse Than Ever” <http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/09/11/13-years-after-9-11-anti-muslim-bigotry-is-worse-than-ever.html> 9 September 2014.
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“is Hollywood anti German”< https://www.google.de/search?q=hollywood+anti&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&gws_rd=cr&ei=pTycVdHjFomsU7OAgqAL#q=is+hollywood+anti+German>
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