The Arab Dilemma in Hollywood

Ashraf Khalil at the LAT discusses the dilemma for actors of Arab extraction in Hollywood that they have to play terrorists or they just don’t find work. Some Arab American actors only get ahead by “passing” (claiming, like the Coneheads on Saturday Night Live, to be “French.”)

There is a word for what these actors suffer, and it is called “racism.” Khalil is too polite to use the word. And it even affects Christian Lebanese-Americans (Tony Shalhoub once had to take such a role).

Lebanese started coming to the United States in fair numbers from the 1880s; millions of Americans have some Lebanese heritage. The Shiite Lebanese of Iowa are a pillar of the business establishment in that state, and they are fourth and fifth generation. That is, they are part of the warp and woof of America, and have been here much longer than many more-accepted immigrant communities. Although in the early 20th century only about 10% of them were Muslim, since 1965 that percentage has increased.

Of course, Arab Americans are not the only ones to suffer such stereotyping. (There are hardly any good roles for African-American actors on network television, e.g.)

But at this moment, racism against Arabs and Muslims is an urgent social problem in the United States, with hate crimes all too frequently being committed against them and the attitudes revealed in opinion polls being increasingly negative.

It would help if we could see some ordinary Arab-Americans on the big screen doing non-terrorist things. Michael DeBakey [Michel Dabaghi], e.g., was a pioneer in heart surgery.

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