Hollywood Orientalism is not about the Arab world

The recent release of Dune: Part One (2021), an American science fiction film directed by Denis Villeneuve, has once again raised the vexing question of Hollywood mis/representation of Arabs, Muslims, and Islam. Film critics particularly from the Arab and Muslim world are up in arms and back on their hobbyhorse of how Hollywood misrepresents them.

It is time for a reality check and to come to terms with the fact that “Hollywood” as an abstraction is in the business of misrepresenting everyone. It has no commitment to truth. It has made a lucrative business of deluding the world. Native Americans, African-Americans, Arabs, Asians, Latinx, Muslims, Africans – everyone on planet Earth is misrepresented for the simple reason that at the epicentre of Hollywood as an industry stands a factual, virtual, or fictive white narrator telling the world he is the measure of truth and wisdom, joy and entertainment.

Dune is now doing its bit of mis/representation with the latest visual panache and state-of-the-art digital bravura and virtuosity. Set in the distant future amid an interstellar dystopia, it is based on the 1965 science fiction novel by American author Frank Herbert. In 1984, David Lynch made a film version of the novel to critics’ dismay. But the 2021 adaptation by Denis Villeneuve has received much praise, from almost everyone other than some Arab and Muslim film critics who think it misrepresents them and has a white saviour fantasy at its core.

It does. It is a textbook white saviour fantasy. But so what? What does it have to do with us – Muslims, Arabs, Iranians, Pakistanis, Turks, Indians, “Orientals” as they call us? A white American novelist, a white Canadian filmmaker, and a mass media company based in Burbank, California – Legendary Entertainment – think the whole universe needs a white saviour who looks like actor Timothée Chalamet. What is it to us? All the power to them! For Arabs and Muslims to chase after these films and ask why did you misrepresent us, or why did you borrow from Islam without any acknowledgement, or why did you cast a white actor in the lead role rather than a first generation Indian, Pakistani, or Egyptian “Muhammad” (as Ridley Scott once put it) is blowing the horn from the wrong side, as we say in Persian

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2 thoughts on “Hollywood Orientalism is not about the Arab world

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