Moroccans in Hollywood Movies. The Case of "Babel"

Term Paper, 2016

15 Pages


Table of Contents


I-Hollywood and its others

II-Representing Moroccans in Hollywood

III- Moroccans represented in Babel
III.1 Film synopsis
III.2 Levels of representations in Babel
2.1 Manifest representations
2.2 Latent representations


Works cited

Representing Moroccans in Hollywood: The Case Of Babel.

By Hamid Masfour, Sultan Moulay Sliman University.


After an overview on the stereotyped view of American cinema on different cultures, the paper proceeds to explore how Hollywood represents Moroccans and how it perpetuates an orientalist imaginary in the case of the American Film Babel. Although on a manifest level this movie represents Moroccans without offending their culture, it approaches them on a latent level through a repertory of denigrating stereotypes belonging to a Eurocentric tradition. Accordingly, due to a racist undercurrent pervading its representation of Morocco, Babel fails in conveying a universal humanistic message claimed all along the plot of the film.


Key Words: Orientalism, Representation, stereotypes,Manifest and Latent representations


Since black-and-white silent moving pictures, the American cinema has always been industry, media and entertainment. However, it has also been propaganda for it joins forces with the politician’s campaigns as well as it takes part in shaping a world view about the American ideal self-image and its others wherever they exist. Going through an overview on the biased perspective of American cinema towards different cultures, my article attempts to explore how Hollywood represents Moroccans and how it perpetuates its orientalist imaginary in the case of Babel.

I-Hollywood and its others

In Hollywood, various western films have been shot to show American bravery and adventure spirit as well as to downsize Red Indians and exterminate them historically(“Native Americans”211-214).As anthropology by the twenties of the last century had disclosed considerable evidence of the capacity of native Americans to symbolize their life experience and cope with their natural environment in their own terms and concepts to elaborate their own cultures,1 filmmakers have been a shield in the arms of racist politicians and main-stream historians .Indeed, against all evidence ,these movies state overtly that the red skins are uncivilized and savage and that their extermination is part of the white man’s civilizational duty.

Likewise, with the Second World War Hollywood was a fresh breathing space of antagonist propaganda against Germans, portraying them as degenerate, bloody, less brilliant and less committed to human ethics(“Representations of Germans”285-308). The Russians, too, are always held in an inferior position to American valor in world war or cold war films to be represented as being dependent on the military and ethical guiding of more engaged, altruistic and conscientious American heroes.2 In addition, fighting against the spread of communism, the American intervention in Vietnam led to a deep damage in the American self-image because of the huge death casualties among the American troops and their compulsory retreat. In this context, to bandage the American wounds, Hollywood has produced numerous self-defensive films where the Vietnamese have been depicted as blood-thirsty, primitive and impulsive tribal warriors incapable of organizing themselves into a civilized society. However, in these Vietnam War movies one of the most repeated cinematic motifs focuses on Vietnamese killing their compatriots to convey that the Americans were Vietnam’s ultimate saviors.3

Likewise, after 9/11 Hollywood has been relentlessly promoting the terrorist image about Arabs and Muslims to enlarge an old pejorative repertory of otherness stereotypes reducing Arabs to “an oversexed degenerate capable of cleverly devious intrigues, but essentially sadistic ,treacherous ,low”(Said, Orientalism 286). In this way, American cinema continues to legitimate the Eurocentric hypothesis of “the white man’s burden” referring to the European colonial claim of their responsibility towards civilizing the uncivilized “others”. Accordingly, various films were produced on the very stereotypical tradition of Arabian nights exemplified in Aladdin, Ali Baba and Sinbad. In a wave of Eurocentric “ warnograpyhy” movies (Hoberman, Vulgar Modernism 272) ,such as kingdom of Heaven ,Black Hawk Down, True Lies, the Mummy and Raiders of the Lost Ark,4 Hollywood’s preoccupation has been centered on affirming American values and institutions to negate anything non-western at the expense of the Arab and Muslim self-image .

In short, as seen by Ward Churchill, for Hollywood to promote Eurocentric representations for furthering an economic , political and cultural propaganda, it has always been “necessary to alter realities to assume the maintenance of empire” ( Churchill, Fantasies 38) .

II-Representing Moroccans in Hollywood

Imagined as a desert space, arid, lifeless and timeless, Morocco was thus portrayed in the 1930’s film Morocco5 in which Gary Cooper starred in events taking place in the Sahara. Similarly, Michael Cortez’s Casablanca 6 and the Road to Morocco,7 coinciding with the Second World War’s allied countries’ conference in 1943 in Casablanca, made Morocco known all through the world as essentially uncivilized. Later, After the oil crisis in the 1970’s and the Gulf War in the 1990’s, Morocco has been rendered in American movies as a threat to be heeded and controlled .Also, in the Sheltering Sky, Legionnaire, Five Fingers8 most of the settings are stark in forsaken deserts or dirty districts, which make these films redolent with connotations of Morocco as a primitive culture underlying alienating and exotic forces. These instances, in the same spirit and perspective of orientalist literature, stand upon demeaning representations portraying Moroccans as inferior, weak, and villain. In a like manner, in other Hollywood blockbusters such as A Night in Casablanca, the Man Who Knew Too Much, Our Man In Marrakesh, Man Of Violence, and Unveiled, 9 Muslims are often depicted as dark Arabs and nomadic heathens, to associate their black skin with evil. Besides, Moroccans are misrepresented as Arabs, Muslims and Africans who are capable of hostile barbarism and unscrupulous conduct. In this way, Hollywood’s discursive constructs of whiteness are sharing in the practices of neo-colonialism through racial and confessional stereotypical representations of Arabs and Muslims.

Since the Barbary wars(1801-1815) fought by the United States, Sweden and Kingdom of Sicily against the “Barbary States” of North Africa,10 Morocco has lured travellers, writers and anthropologists .Internationally famous intellectuals such as Edith Wharton, Paul Bowles and Clifford Geertz tried to consume Morocco, focusing on its culture and traditions .However, American filmmakers have portrayed Morocco quite in the same biased and otherness-feeding tradition as practised in captivity accounts and travel-related novels(Green, English Novel 14) . Accordingly, Hollywood’s discourse engages into perpetuating and inventing an essentialist image about what the American forefathers used to pejoratively call “the coast of Barbary”. On parallel grounds, such movies meet the needs and feelings of an orient-curious audience to keep alive a set of distorting streotypes that sprang from the Barbary wars’ encounters and the imperialist requirements and desires.

III- Moroccans represented in Babel

III.1 Film synopsis

A 2006 international American drama film directed by Alejandro González Innaritu, Babel reaped different awards from Cannes, Toronto and Zagreb. Babel revolves around four interrelated situations and characters in Morocco, Japan and the Americas. The events unfold within a fragmented plot which skillfully binds the characters’ fates. Yasujiro is a Japanese hunter who, during a trip in Morocco, gives his rifle as a gift to his hunting guide; Hassan who at the beginning of the film sells the rifle to Abdullah, a goat herder .This latter gives the arm to his sons Youssef and Ahmed to get rid of the jackals. The boys trying to test the rifle’s range, a tourist bus was passing by. Unfortunately, youssef shoots an American tourist, Susan Jones, who is on vacation with her husband, Richard .Alarmed by what they did, the two boys flee and hide the rifle in the hills by the fall of the night .A U.S. TV channel broadcasts the event as a terrorist act. Tracking them, the police keep shooting and fatally injure Ahmed in the back. Youssef surrenders and begs medical assistance for his brother. He is taken into custody. Having contacted the US embassy, a helicopter comes and takes Susan Jones.


1 I have in mind the native American mythologies in the anthropological work of Claude Levi- Strauss’s Structural Anthropoloy (1958).

2 For more details see Nora Sayre’s Running Time: Films of the Cold War (1982) and Rogin, Michael’s Ronald Regan, the Movie: And Other Episodes in Political Demonology (1987).

3 See Linda cite Dittmar, Linda and Gene Michaud’s From Hanoi to Hollywood: the Vietnam War in American film(1990)cite

4 Kingdom of Heaven. Dir. Scott Ridely (U.S.A: Twenty century fox, 2005); Black Hawk down, Rideley Scott U.S.A:Revolution Studios,2001); True Lies,Dir. James Cameron ,( U.S.A:20th century fox,1994); The Mummy, Dir.Stephen Sommers , (U.S.A: Universal Pictures,1999); The Raiders of the Lost Arch,( U.S.A: Paramount pictures,1981);

5 Morocco, Dir. Josef Von Sternberg ,(U.S.A: Paramount Pictures,1930)

6 Casablanca, Dir. Michael Curtiz , (U.S.A: Warner Bros,1942).

7 The Road To Morocco, Dir. David Butler,( U.S.A: Paramount Pictures, 1942).

8 Sheltering Sky, Bernardo Bertolucci,( U.S.A: Warner Bros,1990); Legionnaire, Dir. Peter MacDonald, (U..S.A:20th century Fox, 1998)

9 A Night in Casablanca, Dir . Archie Mayo, Dir ( USA:Loma Vista Films,1946 );, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Dir . Alfred Hitchcock,Dir ( Great Britain And U.S.A:Filwite Productions,1956 );Our Man in Marrakech , Dir. Don Sharp, ( United Kingdom and The U.S.A:Towers of London ,1966); , Man of Violence , Dir. Pete Walker, United Kingdom:Miracle Film ,1968);, Unveiled, Dir . William Cole, Dir (U.S.A: Olivar entertainment,1944 )

10 For further details on Barbary Wars, see Frank Lambert’s The Barbary Wars, (New York: Hill and Wang, 2005) .

Excerpt out of 15 pages


Moroccans in Hollywood Movies. The Case of "Babel"
Sultan Moulay Sliman University
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This essay was originally written for international academic publication.
Representation, orientalism, Manifest and latent orientalist representations, stereotypes
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Hamid Masfour (Author), 2016, Moroccans in Hollywood Movies. The Case of "Babel", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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