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103
THROUGH A SCREEN DARKLY: HOLLYWOOD AS A MEASURE OF DISCRIMINATION
AGAINST ARABS AND MUSLIMS
BY TUNG YIN†
I. ARABS AND MUSLIMS AS TERRORISTS IN HOLLYWOOD……………………………………. 106 A. Before 9/11…………………………………………………………………………………….. 106 B. After 9/11……………………………………………………………………………………….. 107
II. HOLLYWOOD AND ARABS: DISCRIMINATORY IMPACT?…………………………………… 108 A. Constructive Refusal to Hire Arab-American Actors?…………………….. 108 B. Insufficient Positive Depictions of Arab-Americans or Muslim-
Americans……………………………………………………………………………………. 112 C. “Sleepers”—On-Screen and in Real Life …………………………………………. 115
III. CONCLUSION …………………………………………………………………………………………….. 120 APPENDIX 1: ACTORS CAST TO PLAY ARAB VILLAINS IN SELECTED PRE-9/11
PROGRAMS…………………………………………………………………………………………… 120 APPENDIX 2: ACTORS CAST TO PLAY ARAB VILLAINS IN SELECTED POST-9/11
PROGRAMS…………………………………………………………………………………………… 121 APPENDIX 3: ACTORS CAST TO PLAY “GOOD” ARABS IN SELECTED PRE- AND
POST-9/11 PROGRAMS………………………………………………………………………….. 122 Long before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Muslims—especially
Arab Muslims—had been a stock set of characters in American television shows and movies. As recounted in Jack Shaheen’s exhaustive book, Reel Bad Arabs,1 Hollywood has long stereotyped Arabs as blonde-lusting sheikhs or uncivilized terrorists.2 Unsurprisingly, since 9/11 there has been an explosion of thriller programs focusing on terrorism, often with Arab and/or Muslim villains.3
† Professor of Law, Lewis & Clark Law School. J.D., 1995, University of California, Berkeley (Boalt Hall). Thanks to Christina Schuck (’11) for research assistance. 1. JACK G. SHAHEEN, REEL BAD ARABS: HOW HOLLYWOOD VILIFIES A PEOPLE (2001) [hereinafter SHAHEEN, REEL BAD ARABS]; see also JACK G. SHAHEEN, GUILTY: HOLLYWOOD’S VERDICT ON ARABS AFTER 9/11 (2008) [hereinafter SHAHEEN, GUILTY]. 2. SHAHEEN, REEL BAD ARABS, supra note 1, at 14–22. Some representative pre-9/11 examples include TRUE LIES (Twentieth Century Fox 1994) and EXECUTIVE DECISION (Warner Bros. 1996), both of which involved Arab terrorists with plans to use weapons of mass destruction on American soil. 3. See infra notes 43–49 and accompanying text.
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In this Essay, I examine this glut of new programming to assess how the live action medium of pop culture has changed, with greater awareness of Arab and Islamic cultures in the current national consciousness.4 The results are mixed. On the one hand, while Arabs and Muslims are still frequently depicted as terrorists, television and movie producers have made greater efforts to show Arab- Americans actively participating in counterterrorism.5 On the other hand, those “good” Arab roles are still secondary characters whose contributions, though important on-screen, do not do justice to their real-life counterparts.6 In addition, many of the new programs introduce a sinister new type of terrorist: the “sleeper.” This new archetype is a seemingly normal Arab-American who insidiously plots to carry out terrorist attacks from inside the country.7
Television shows and movies are, of course, stylized fiction, and their stereotyped depictions are not the same thing as actual discrimination against Arabs and Muslims. However, as one defender of movies with Arab villains notes, “Hollywood reflects the perceptions and anxieties of the times.”8 It may be that Hollywood produces movies and television shows with Arab villains because that is what the audience expects.9
Pop culture also works itself into more serious matters of national policy and law enforcement. In one widely reported incident, the dean of the United States Military Academy at West Point asked the producers of 24 to either reduce the amount of torture by Jack Bauer or at least show it backfiring, because U.S. military personnel in Iraq were using torture tactics they observed on the show.10 Television shows and movies about terrorism policy may also influence how viewers perceive the reality of terrorism and counterterrorism policy.
Researchers have found a strong correlation between events depicted on television and public support for change. For example, the portrayals of stalkers on television shows and movies result in harsher anti-stalking laws.11 The 1970s television drama Emergency! led audiences to expect greater availability of emergency services nationwide, and local governments complied.12 The
4. I do not discuss terrorism thriller works of fiction, though that could be another vector of analysis. See, e.g., VINCE FLYNN, CONSENT TO KILL (2005) (representing a sample of such works). 5. See infra notes 90, 92–96 and accompanying text. 6. See infra notes 92–94 and accompanying text. 7. See, e.g., 24 (Fox television broadcast 2001–10); infra Part II.C. 8. Daniel Mandel, Muslims on the Silver Screen, 8 MIDDLE EAST Q. 19, 30 (2001). 9. See id. at 28 (“Verisimilitude is the all-important consideration and by that standard Hollywood can be vindicated. . . . There are simply no Jewish versions of Osama bin Laden or black versions of Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman.”); see also Lawrence Friedman, Law, Lawyers, and Popular Culture, 98 YALE L.J. 1579, 1589–90 (1989) (noting that television shows evolved to show more African-American characters in general and more women appearing as more than “sex objects, or as simpering, servant-like creatures” because “[t]elevision companies, their writers, and their advertisers, have merely reacted to what one part of the audience demands and another part respects or allows”). 10. Jane Mayer, Whatever It Takes: The Politics of the Man Behind “24,” NEW YORKER, Feb. 19, 2007, at 66. 11. See generally ORI KAMIR, EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE: STALKING NARRATIVES AND THE LAW (2001). 12. Paul Bergman, Emergency!: Send a TV Show to Rescue Paramedic Services!, 36 U. BALT. L. REV. 347, 347–48 (2007).
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television show Perry Mason, among others, “changed . . . the public’s perception of lawyers, the police, and the legal system.”13 Where crime dramas are concerned, the findings are even more specific: some viewers (1) develop a distorted view that violent crime is far more pervasive than it really is, with concomitant increase in support for harsh treatment of criminals;14 (2) perceive whites to be far more likely to be homicide victims than in reality, and thereby “discount[] the tidal wave of death and injury suffered by African-Americans at the hands of criminals”;15 (3) come to accept the views of law enforcement protagonists that civil rights merely get in the way of crime control;16 and, (4) if serving as jurors in criminal trials, develop unrealistically high expectations for forensic evidence in what some have dubbed the “CSI effect,” after the popular CBS drama.17 In short, television and movies matter.
In the first part of this Essay, I identify a number of movies and television shows that dramatize fictional counterterrorism efforts, both pre- and post-9/11, with Arab villains. My aim is not to provide detailed synopses of the programs in question, but rather to highlight how Arabs and Muslims are depicted. In the second section, I consider how those depictions can reflect, as well as inflame, prejudice and discrimination against Arabs and Muslims. I focus on three distinct issues. First, I observe that the increase in Arab characters on television and in the movies does not appear to have translated into a bonanza for Arab- American actors. Second, I follow up on complaints that Arab-American advocates have raised about the paucity of positive images of Arab-Americans in these sorts of programs. I then identify two real-life Arab-American agents who have played primary (as opposed to supporting) roles in counterterrorism efforts, including against al Qaeda, in recent years. Hollywood’s consistent failure to mirror reality not only disparages the efforts of these Arab-Americans, but also may harm national security by glossing over the problems posed by having too few Arabic-speaking agents. Finally, I consider the recent trend of cinematic villains who are not just Arab but also members of “sleeper cells.” I compare these characters to their real-life counterparts, various American citizens and residents who have been convicted of terrorism-related offenses after the 9/11 attacks. For the most part, the real life “sleepers” have not had the sophistication or the level of intended lethality that is commonly depicted in the movies or on television.
13. Steven D. Stark, Perry Mason Meets Sonny Crockett: The History of Lawyers and the Police as Television Heroes, 42 U. MIAMI L. REV. 229, 230 (1987). 14. See David A. Harris, The Appearance of Justice: Court TV, Conventional Television, and Public Understanding of the Criminal Justice System, 35 ARIZ. L. REV. 785, 813 (1993); Simon A. Cole & Rachel Dioso-Villa, Investigating the “CSI Effect” Effect: Media and Litigation Crisis in Criminal Law, 61 STAN. L. REV. 1335, 1335 (2009). 15. Harris, supra note 14, at 814–15. 16. Id. at 815. 17. Cole & Dioso-Villa, supra note 14.
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I. ARABS AND MUSLIMS AS TERRORISTS IN HOLLYWOOD
A. Before 9/11
The United States had been the target of successful terrorist attacks well before 9/11. Some of these include the 1983 truck bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon,18 the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers housing facility in Dharan, Saudi Arabia,19 the 1998 bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania,20 and the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in a Yemen port.21 These attacks all took place overseas—indeed, on the other side of the planet—so they did not engender the same degree of apprehension and terror as did the 9/11 attacks.22 Of course, there were also two major terrorist incidents in the 1990s within the United States: the 1993 truck bombing of the World Trade Center,23 and the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.24
Hollywood apparently found these incidents lacking in dramatic tension. The terrorism thrillers of the 1990s, in contrast, concocted seemingly fantastic scenarios, usually involving plots to use chemical or nuclear weapons on U.S. soil.25 Among the major releases with Arab villains were Navy SEALS in 1990,26 True Lies in 1994,27 Executive Decision in 1996,28 and The Siege in 1998.29
18. NAT’L COMM’N ON TERRORIST ATTACKS UPON THE UNITED STATES, THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 61 (2004) [hereinafter 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT], available at http://www.9- 11commission.gov/report/911Report.pdf. 19. Id. at 60. 20. Id. at 68–70. 21. Id. at 190–97. 22. Compare RICHARD A. CLARKE, AGAINST ALL ENEMIES: INSIDE AMERICA’S WAR ON TERROR 112– 13 (2004) (discussing the reaction to the attacks on the Khobar Towers), id. at 181–87 (discussing the reaction to the embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya), and id. at 222–23 (discussing the reaction to the attack on the U.S.S. Cole), with id. at 1–34 (discussing the response to the 9/11 attacks. In addition, life in the United States following the earlier attacks proceeded normally for the most part, whereas after the 9/11 attacks, air traffic across the country and the stock markets were shut down, and military fighter planes flew combat air patrols over U.S. skies for days). See 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT, supra note 18, at 327; Tom Bowman, Pilots defending U.S. Take On Grim Mission, BALT. SUN, Sept. 30, 2001, at A1. 23. See CLARKE, supra note 22, at 73. 24. See generally LOU MICHEL & DAN HERBECK, AMERICAN TERRORIST: TIMOTHY MCVEIGH & THE OKLAHOMA CITY BOMBING (2001). 25. Ironically, at least two of the pre-9/11 attacks subsequently became the basis of major movies: BLACK HAWK DOWN (Revolution Studios 2001), based on Mark Bowden’s 1999 book of the same title, depicted the 1993 ambush of ninety-nine U.S. soldiers in Somalia, in which al Qaeda is now believed to have been involved, and 2008 saw the release of THE KINGDOM (Universal Pictures 2007), a fictionalized version of the Khobar Barracks bombing. 26. NAVY SEALS (Orion Pictures 1990). 27. TRUE LIES, supra note 2. 28. EXECUTIVE DECISION, supra note 2. 29. THE SIEGE (Bedford Falls Prod. 1998). Of course, not all terrorism thrillers of this time period had Arab or Muslim villains. In THE ROCK (Hollywood Pictures 1996), for example, it is a group of U.S. military and ex-military personnel who take hostages on Alcatraz Island and demand millions of dollars from the U.S. government on threat of launching nerve gas-equipped missiles into the San Francisco Bay Area. Other films of recent vintage include DIE HARD (Twentieth Century Fox 1988) (eastern European terrorists who take over a Los Angeles office tower), DIE HARD 3: DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE (Twentieth Century Fox 1995) (also eastern European terrorists setting off bombs in New
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The villains in these films are openly or subtly identified as Arabs from specific Middle Eastern nations such as Lebanon,30 the Palestinian territory,31 or Iraq,32 though they may also appear “generically” Arab.33 In many instances, elite U.S. Special Forces soldiers or secret agents stop these terrorists from crashing a chemical weapon-loaded hijacked plane,34 setting off stolen nuclear weapons,35 and using stolen ground-to-air missiles against commercial aviation.36
Unlike the other movies, The Siege depicts U.S. counterterrorism agents in a negative as well as a positive light.37 In responding to a series of conventional bombing attacks in New York, the U.S. military rounds up and detains all young Arab men in Brooklyn based simply on their race and religion, and a U.S. general tortures a suspect to death before discovering that the suspect was innocent.38
The terrorists in these films are not only all Arabs, but also clearly depicted as Muslims, frequently invoking the Koran to justify their actions, praying toward Mecca, and calling out to Allah.39 With the exception of The Siege, little to no explanation is given as to why the terrorists are engaged in such horrific actions.40 This is not to say that terrorism can be justified, especially given the time limitations of a 90–120 minute action movie. However, even the reprehensible tactic of using Palestinian suicide bombers to attack buses, theaters, and other soft targets in Israel is rooted in an understandable conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis about sovereignty over the West Bank, Gaza Strip, the city of Jerusalem, and the rest of Israel. That suicide bombing attacks are used for liberation and overthrow of what some consider a foreign, illegal occupation has led numerous commentators to justify the tactic.41 Rarely does Hollywood provide even such a basic level of explanation of the antagonists’ motivations.
B. After 9/11
In the fall of 2001, three of the four major networks were set to debut terrorism-related programs: 24, Alias, and The Agency.42 Although Alias never
York), and THE PEACEMAKER (Dreamworks 1997) (Serbian terrorist planning to set off nuclear device in Manhattan). 30. NAVY SEALS, supra note 26. 31. EXECUTIVE DECISION, supra note 2. 32. THE SIEGE, supra note 29. 33. TRUE LIES, supra note 2. I say “generically” in the sense that they may dress in Middle Eastern garb or invoke “Allah.” 34. EXECUTIVE DECISION, supra note 2. 35. TRUE LIES, supra note 2. 36. NAVY SEALS, supra note 30. 37. THE SIEGE, supra note 29. 38. Id. 39. See SHAHEEN, REEL BAD ARABS, supra note 1, at 11. 40. See EXECUTIVE DECISION, supra note 2; NAVY SEALS, supra note 26; TRUE LIES, supra note 2. 41. See, e.g., AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL, WITHOUT DISTINCTION: ATTACKS ON CIVILIANS BY PALESTINIAN ARMED GROUPS 6 (2002), available at http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/ country,,AMNESTY,,PSE,4562d8cf2,3d2eea8e4,0.html. 42. None of the three was inspired by the 9/11 attacks, since each had been bought by its respective network well before September 2001.
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depicted significant Arab characters43 and The Agency aired for only two seasons,44 24 became a mainstay of Fox Network’s primetime lineup.45 Its success likely inspired subsequent waves of terrorism thrillers such as Sleeper Cell46 and The Grid,47 both of which focused directly on Arab terrorism, as well as other counterterrorism programs such as Threat Matrix48 and E-Ring.49 More recently, the big budget thriller The Kingdom depicted a heavily fictionalized account of the Khobar Barracks bombing.50
As with the pre-9/11 thrillers, the post-9/11 television shows often depict apocalyptic threats to the United States by terrorists armed with chemical, nuclear, or biological weapons.51 Sometimes the terrorists are based outside the United States, as in The Grid, where a joint American and British counterterrorism task force is formed to respond to a terrorist cell whose goal is to attack the financial foundation of the Western world—oil shipping.52 But other post-9/11 shows presented even more sinister terrorism plots that marry domestic terrorism (such as the 1993 truck bombing of the World Trade Center and the 1995 bombing of the World Trade Center) with weapons of mass destruction.53 24‘s ruthless counterterrorism agent, Jack Bauer, disrupts plots to use nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons by both Arabs from unspecified Middle Eastern countries, as well as eastern Europeans and greedy Americans (including in one memorable season, the president), all living in the United States.54
II. HOLLYWOOD AND ARABS: DISCRIMINATORY IMPACT?
A. Constructive Refusal to Hire Arab-American Actors?
Given this increased emphasis on television shows and movies with Arab villains, one might at least expect the increased employment of actors of Arab descent as a silver lining. 55 But it appears there has been no such increase. In pre-
43. Alias (ABC television broadcast 2001–06). 44. The Agency (CBS television broadcast 2001–03). 45. See, e.g., Michael Schneider, Clock Winds Down For “24,” VARIETY, Mar. 10, 2010, (noting that 24 was one of the Fox shows that helped the network capture the #1 spot in the 18–49 demographic), available at http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118016256.html?categoryid= 14&cs=1. 46. Sleeper Cell (Showtime television broadcast 2005–06). 47. The Grid (TNT television broadcast 2004). 48. Threat Matrix (ABC television broadcast 2003–04). 49. E-Ring (NBC television broadcast 2005–06). 50. THE KINGDOM, supra note 25. 51. Cf. JOHN MUELLER, ATOMIC OBSESSION: NUCLEAR ALARMISM FROM HIROSHIMA TO AL-QAEDA 11–13 (2009) (arguing that chemical and biological weapons fall well short of the killing potential of nuclear or even conventional weapons). 52. The Grid, supra note 47. 53. Threat Matrix, supra note 48; 24, supra note 7; The Agency, supra note 44. 54. 24, supra note 7. 55. I use “Arab” here in the sense of referring to countries that are full members of the Arab League (Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Kuwait, Algeria, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Mauritania, Somalia, Palestine, Djibouti, and Comoros). To determine the racial/ethnic backgrounds of the actors, I checked their entries on IMDb.com and, when available, the actor’s personal webpage and news stories. It is
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9/11 movies, Arab villains have been portrayed largely by actors not of Arab descent.56 This trend has continued throughout post-9/11 films and television shows, with Arab villains played by actors of a wide variety of ethnic/racial backgrounds—Greek, Pakistani, Israeli/Jewish, Latino, South African, Iranian, Indian, and Cuban.57
Does it matter if the characters are not played by actors of Arab descent? After all, some Americans cannot tell the difference between Arabs and Indian Sikhs.58 It may seem that the question places too much emphasis on an actor’s ethnicity. However, these movies and television shows have made the race of the characters relevant by identifying them as Middle Eastern. This use of non-Arab actors to play Arab characters is reminiscent of the insulting practice in the early to mid-Twentieth Century of having Caucasian actors playing Asian characters.59 Hollywood has long moved past such practices for Asian, African-American, and Native American characters; why does this practice remain in place for Arab- American characters?60
The overwhelming trend of employing non-Arab actors to portray Arab characters invites a number of explanations: (1) that there are insufficient numbers of Arab-American actors to satisfy these roles; (2) that there are Arab- American actors available, but they “aren’t good enough” to play the villains; or (3) that there are Arab-American actors available but they don’t want to take these parts. Explanation One—that there are insufficient Arab-American actors— strikes me as unbelievable. Prominent American actors of at least partial Arab descent include Wentworth Miller, Alexander Siddig, Tony Shalhoub, Vince Vaughn,61 F. Murray Abraham, Jamie Farr, Salma Hayek,62 and Michael Nouri.63
possible, of course, that a given actor may have concealed his or her Arab background, in which case my research would not have identified the actor accurately. On the other hand, that an actor felt it necessary to conceal his or her Arab background is, in a sense, evidence of subjective belief that discrimination against Arab-American actors exists. 56. See Appendix 1. 57. See Appendix 2. 58. See, e.g., Laurie Goodstein & Tamar Lewin, A Nation Challenged: Violence and Harassment; Victims of Mistaken Identity, Sikhs Pay a Price for Turbans, N.Y. TIMES, Sept. 19, 2001, at A1 (describing how an Arizona man shot an Indian Sikh, erroneously believing him to be a follower of the Taliban). 59. See generally Keith Aoki, “Foreign-ness” & Asian-American Identities: Yellowface, World War II Propaganda, and Bifurcated Racial Stereotypes, 4 ASIAN PAC. AM. L.J. 1 (1996). To be sure, some of the actors cast as villains can trace their racial background to predominantly Islamic countries such as Iran or Pakistan. 60. See, e.g., Valerie Kuklenski, Latinos Lag, Blacks Gain in TV, Films, DAILY NEWS OF LOS ANGELES, Sept. 20, 1997 (noting that Latinos were losing out on roles they used to get playing American Indians, Jews, or Pacific Islanders because of “political correctness”). 61. IMDb.com, Biography for Vince Vaughn, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000681/ (last visited Mar. 20, 2010) (“[Vaughn] is of Lebanese, Italian, Irish, English, and German ancestry.”). 62. IMDb.com, Biography for Salma Hayek, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000161/bio (last visited Mar. 20, 2010) (“Hayek’s] father was born in Lebanon.”). 63. See SHAHEEN, GUILTY, supra note 1, at 60 (noting Arab backgrounds of Siddig, Abraham, and Farr); Nick Paumgarten, The Race Card, THE NEW YORKER, Nov. 10, 2003. at 44 (noting Miller’s descent on mother’s side as Russian-Dutch-French-Syrian-Lebanese). Some of these actors may be too old to play certain roles, and others are known primarily as comedy actors and might seem unsuitable for thrillers. On the other hand, there have been comics and comedy actors who have played serious roles in thrillers, such as Paul Reiser in “Aliens” and Mary-Lynn Rajskub in 24. See Sheila Benson, “Aliens” Blasts Off with Weaver in Command, L.A. TIMES, July 18, 1986, at 1 (noting that Reiser was an
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In addition, that there have been actors of Arab descent cast in usually non- speaking, background roles (usually identified in credits simply as “Terrorist” or “Terrorist #4”) is further evidence against Explanation One. 64
It is hard to know how to assess the validity of Explanation Two—that Arab-American actors aren’t “good enough” to play major characters. Whether a given actor is good enough for a role is inevitably a subjective question, though at the extremes it is hard to imagine that anyone would equate Denise Richards’s acting with, say, Meryl Streep’s. In any event, the Arab-American actors identified above have been deemed “good enough” to carry television shows and movies such as Fox’s Prison Break (Wentworth Miller), USA Network’s Monk (Tony Shalhoub), and the various films starring Vince Vaughn.
Finally, there is some anecdotal evidence to support Explanation Three— that Arab-American actors have rejected these villainous roles. Shaheen recounts numerous interviews with Arab-American actors who either declined to take roles as Arab terrorists or took them reluctantly, because there were no other roles to be had.65 Lebanese-American actor Tony Shalhoub has reportedly refused to play Arab terrorists or criminals.66 Other actors reported taking steps to de-emphasize or even conceal their Arab background.67 One Arab-American actor explained, “I want to play parts where I am not killing people.”68
It may also be that many of these Arab villain roles are not much fun to portray, despite conventional wisdom that playing the antagonist is often more interesting than playing the protagonist.69 In 24, for example, the Arab terrorists are almost invariably grimly efficient and highly competent, but also somewhat
ex-comic); Mark de la Vina, SF Sketchfest Rolls Out the Laughs, SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, Jan. 10, 2008, at 15 (noting Rajskub’s background with Comedians of Comedy). To be sure, some of the actors in the list, such as Wentworth Miller and Vince Vaughn, are of mixed racial ancestry. But while we do not have an official “one drop” rule any more, society still often proceeds under that assumption with regard to actors. Simply consider the controversy over Saturday Night Live’s selection of cast member Fred Armisen to play Barack Obama in skits. Obama is half-black, half-white; Armisen also has mixed ancestry, though he is not black. Therefore, he matches Obama in being part-white. Yet, critics assailed the choice, suggesting that “SNL” should have hired a black actor/comedian to portray Obama. See, e.g., Irrelevant comedy Show Suddenly Enters the Race for the Presidency, S.F. CHRON., Mar. 7, 2008, at E1 (stating that the “Armisen hire was wrong”). 64. For a full cast list for Executive Decision, where the “Terrorist” and “Terrorist #4” examples are drawn, see http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116253/fullcredits#cast. 65. SHAHEEN, GUILTY, supra note 1, at 59–60. 66. Karen Heller, “Siege” Director Defends Film Against Criticism, MOBILE REG. (Ala.), Nov. 9, 1998, at D5; see also Tony Shalhoub Counters Negative Stereotypes in Hollywood, VOICE OF AM., Sept. 9, 2009, available at http://www1.voanews.com/english/news/a-13-2009-09-09-voa34-68709247.html (“Throughout his movie career, spanning over 20 years, Tony Shalhoub has turned down scripts when he felt there were negative or racist overtones in the story line”). 67. SHAHEEN, GUILTY, supra note 1, at 60 (noting examples of actors who Anglicized their names). 68. Id. at 60–61 (quoting Karim Saleh). 69. See, e.g., Carolyn Sayre, 10 Questions, TIME, Feb. 11, 2008, at 8 (quoting actress Susan Sarandon as saying “[i]t is always more fun to be bad. All the mean things that you would love to say, you suddenly have license to do.”); Miriam Di Nunzio, Screen Villains Cherish Their Bond with 007, CHI. SUN TIMES, Dec. 15, 2006, at 08 (quoting actor Sean Bean as saying “[i]t’s more fun to play the bad guy”); Andrew Fenton, Stars Turn to the Dark Side, ADVERTISER (Austl.), Aug. 2, 2007, at 42 (quoting Harrison Ford, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Robin Williams as saying that they enjoyed playing villains).
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boring.70 Not all 24 villains are such bland automatons, however. The non-Arab villains in 24 have been played with scene-chewing gusto by actors and well- known movie stars such as Dennis Hopper, Joaquim de Almedia, Tzi Ma, and Jon Voight.71 Frequent television character actor Gregory Itzen was given enough material, as the devious and loathsome President Logan, to have earned an Emmy nomination.72
Is there something setting these enemies apart from the Arab villains? One notable difference is that these other villains are given at least some nominal motivation for their horrific acts.73 Tzi Ma’s character, for example, first was driven by his sincere belief that Jack Bauer was responsible for the death of his country’s consular officer and therefore needed to be brought to justice.74 Later, in seeking to blackmail Bauer to steal a secret Russian microchip, he aspired to bolster China’s national security vis-à-vis Russia.75
That there are Arab roles available that are so unsatisfying that actors of Arab descent would pass them up is reminiscent of constructive discharge in employment law. Under this doctrine, an employer that makes working conditions so intolerable that an employee quits can be liable without actually firing the employee,76 preventing the employer from doing indirectly what it is forbidden from doing directly.77 Similarly, Hollywood’s treatment of Arab- American actors could be seen as discriminatory due to its making the roles so unpalatable that few, if any, such actors would want them. To be sure, I am not suggesting that these casting matters should be subject to litigation.78 My point is more limited: the absence of Arab-American actors portraying Arab characters may be in part a reflection of a dismissive attitude toward Arab and Muslim cultures.
The question remains: why does Hollywood create such unappealing Arab characters? Other racial groups such as Asians, African-Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos have not appeared as monolithic terrorists; in fact, after Arabs and Muslims, it seems like disgruntled U.S. military soldiers and undercover agents are the next most frequent category of terrorists in movies and television shows.79 One immediate response, of course, might be that Arabs
70. See 24, supra note 7. 71. Id. 72. Gillian Flynn, Time Zoned, EW.com, July 6, 2006, http://www.ew.com/ew/article/ 0,,1209866,00.html. 73. 24, supra note 7. For a discussion of the significance of motivation for terrorist characters, see Tung Yin, Jack Bauer Syndrome: Hollywood’s Depiction of National Security Law, 17 S. CAL. INTERDISCIPLINARY L.J. 279, 293–95 (2008) [hereinafter Yin, Jack Bauer Syndrome]. 74. 24, supra note 7. 75. Id. 76. See, e.g., Watson v. Nationwide Ins. Co., 823 F.2d 360, 361 (9th Cir. 1987); see also Martha Chamallas, Title VII’s Midlife Crisis: The Case of Constructive Discharge, 77 S. CAL. L. REV. 307, 314–22 (2004). 77. See Watson, supra note 76; Chamalla, supra note 76. 78. But see Russell K. Robinson, Casting and Caste-ing: Reconciling Artistic Freedom and Antidiscrimination Norms, 95 CAL. L. REV. 1, 18–24 (2007). 79. See THE ROCK, supra note 29 (concerning soldiers); BROKEN ARROW (Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. 1996) (concerning an Air Force pilot); DIE HARD 2 (Gordon Co. 1990) (concerning former soldiers); UNDER SIEGE (Warner Bros. Pictures 1992) (concerning an ex-CIA operative and a naval
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have committed most of the terrorism directed against American interests since 1980. Daniel Mandel, in defending the portrayal of Arabs as terrorists in films, has argued that audiences expect “verisimilitude” in films, and that having fictional Jewish or African-American terrorists would be silly.80 But of course, one is hard-pressed to identify any real-life terrorism involving high-level military commanders and their underlings, yet movies like The Rock and Die Hard 2 have succeeded with such fictional villains.81 Moreover, it is not as if there are no African-American, Latino, or Asian terrorists in any of these movies; three of the Marines in The Rock who take hostages on Alcatraz Island are African- American,82 and the leader of the military strike force that turns out to be in cahoots with the terrorists in Die Hard 2 is African-American.83 The difference is that in those movies, the particular terrorists are identified as rogue soldiers because that is what unites them with their fellow criminals. In contrast, the terrorists in Navy SEALs, True Lies, Executive Decision, and The Siege are all defined exclusively by their Arab background.84
“Verisimilitude” means that Hollywood is producing movies with villains that audiences will accept, and therefore Hollywood reflects general societal views and biases. This is a self-perpetuating problem: what Hollywood produces impacts what the audience believes, and what the audience believes in turn influences, if not dictates, what Hollywood produces. It is fair to say that Hollywood and audiences seem comfortable with depictions of terrorist groups that are monolithically Arab in a way that they are not with other identifiable minority racial groups.
B. Insufficient Positive Depictions of Arab-Americans or Muslim-Americans
Another complaint raised by Arab-American advocates—even before 9/11—was that movies with Arab terrorists rarely, if ever, depicted Arab- Americans or Muslims in a positive light.85 In Executive Decision and Navy SEALs, for example, the U.S. assault teams are positively multicultural—except there are no Arab-American soldiers.86 In True Lies, the protagonists fight off all of the Arab terrorists virtually single-handedly, with a very small bit of assistance from an Arab-American code breaker.87
commander); UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY (Warner Bros. Pictures 1995) (concerning an ex- defense industry scientist and an ex-military soldier). 80. Mandel, supra note 8, at 29. 81. Die Hard 2 was the eighth highest grossing movie domestically and seventh in the world in 1990. Boxofficemojo.com, Die Hard 2, http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies?id=diehard2.htm (last visited Mar. 26, 2010). The Rock was the seventh highest grossing movie domestically and 4th in the world in 1996. Boxofficemojo.com, The Rock, http://www.boxofficemojo.com/ movies?id=rock.htm (last visited Mar. 26, 2010). 82. THE ROCK, supra note 29. 83. DIE HARD 2, supra note 79. 84. To be sure, having multicultural terrorists cannot be the simple solution in all cases; the plots of Navy SEALs and The Siege, for example, would be rendered incoherent by such a fix. 85. See generally SHAHEEN, REEL BAD ARABS, supra note 1. 86. EXECUTIVE DECISION, supra note 2; NAVY SEALS, supra note 26. 87. TRUE LIES, supra note 2.
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A requirement that every Hollywood terrorism thriller with Arab villains include an Arab-American soldier or agent would no doubt be ridiculed as imposing a “quota.” But it does seem odd that the Executive Decision and Navy SEALs producers appeared to prioritize diverse casting of the assault teams yet failed to create Arab-American characters. After all, from a narrative standpoint, there would be clear advantages to having Arabic-speakers on the teams in case the enemies were communicating amongst themselves in Arabic. In contrast, The Siege had a key Arab-American Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) agent, played by Tony Shalhoub, who got caught up in the drama when his own son was swept into the detention dragnet.88
The mere presence of a single “good” Arab-American might be seen as tokenism, much in the same way, as Jack Shaheen argues, that Tonto’s presence hardly dispelled the offensive images of all the remaining Native Americans in the Lone Ranger films.89 While Jack Shaheen acknowledges the positive portrayal of Shalhoub’s character in The Siege, he ultimately dismisses the impact of Agent Haddad when weighed against “the movie’s violent, monolithic view of Arabs and Muslims.”90 Indeed, there is reason to believe that negative images of groups influence viewers more than positive ones do.91
Since 9/11, government-agent characters who are Arab or practicing Muslims have become more prevalent. The counterterrorism team on ABC’s Threat Matrix included a character who downplayed his Islamic faith until one episode, which ended with his praying toward Mecca on-screen.92 In the television mini-series The Grid, there was an Arab-American Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”) analyst who helps the joint U.S.–British counterterrorism team understand the culture of the cell that they are operating against.93 Even 24 adapted to the times and introduced a Palestinian-American Counter Terrorism Unit (“CTU”) analyst in the sixth season who was promoted to the acting head of CTU Los Angeles by the end of the day.94
On this score, then, Hollywood appears to have improved incrementally. Whereas The Siege stood out for having even a token Arab-American agent, producers in the post-9/11 era seem to accept that if they depict Arabs as the villains, they need to have an Arab-American counterterrorism agent.95 But it must also be said that Sleeper Cell stood out for having a protagonist who was a practicing Muslim.96
How does Hollywood’s marginally improved positive portrayals of Arab- Americans or American Muslims compare to real life? Sadly, Hollywood tokenism in some ways reflects reality. At the time of the 9/11 attacks, there were
88. THE SIEGE, supra note 29. 89. SHAHEEN, REEL BAD ARABS, supra note 1, at 431. 90. Id. 91. See Michael Asimow, Bad Lawyers in the Movies, 24 NOVA L. REV. 533, 560 (2000) (citing studies indicating that negative images of groups influence viewers more than positive images). 92. Threat Matrix, supra note 43, “Patriot Acts” (Oct. 16, 2003). 93. The Grid, supra note 47. 94. 24, supra note 7 (2006). 95. See supra text accompanying note 84. 96. Sleeper Cell, supra note 46.
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only eight Arabic-speaking FBI agents in the entire country.97 The scarcity of Arabic-speaking agents may be due to a combination of factors ranging from the relatively small Arab-American population in the country, 0.4%,98 to an insul

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