As Hollywood tends to release movies with adventures and bad guys, filmmakers tend to associate Muslims with terrorists and give them negative roles. One should say that the main reason for this problem is the inability of Hollywood filmmakers to understand the Middle Eastern culture and the tendency to see only negative events and attitudes related to Hollywood Middle Eastern cliches. Thus, the negative vision of Middle East among Hollywood filmmakers is a consequence of the established negative cliches, the historical background of the country, and terrorism promoted by many Muslim organizations.
The History of Hollywood from Its Beginning until Today
Hollywood is a district in California that has become a historical center of cinematography and a movie studio that brought it fame and world recognition. Hollywood is associated with all U.S. film industry. The first association with Hollywood in people’s minds arose in 1853 with the establishment of a single adobe hut on the area outside Los Angeles (Wanamaker & Nudelman, 2007). In 1886, one family named their ranch Hollywood for the English holly and woods (Wanamaker & Nudelman, 2007). However, Hollywood started from the creation of independent film studios. The advantages of the choice of Los Angeles as a location for filmmaking were the following: (1) a variety of landscapes; (2) an open trade town; (3) inexpensive property; (4) favorable weather conditions.
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The first film studio was established in Hollywood in 1920. Consequently, Hollywood began to make 80% of the world’s cinema. The period from 1930 to 1949 was known as the Studio Era in American cinema (Wanamaker & Nudelman, 2007). Thus, by 1930, there were five companies known as the ‘Big Five’ or the ‘Majors’. In 1949, the major studios were forced to sell the theatre chains because of Hollywood monopolistic practices. It means that the American film industry began to decline in the 1950s due to the growth of television. By 1950, the first commercial television station west of the Mississippi operated in Hollywood. As a result, Hollywood studios began a long process of recovery that lasted until the late 1980s (Wanamaker & Nudelman, 2007).
At first, Hollywood presented only silent and black and white movies that depicted Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford. After that, Hollywood made a great revolution in film industry by producing the first sound movies. The most popular genres of Hollywood films were western, melodrama, and comedy. The first Hollywood movies were produced quickly and cheaply. Filmmakers could shot films anywhere as they were silent. Later, Hollywood filmmakers began to show adventure and historical films. Currently, the range of film genres is extremely diverse. Moreover, Hollywood is known as the Factory of Dreams as it produces more than a thousand of films each year. Furthermore, Hollywood is the most powerful film industry that is based on innovative technologies, and billions of dollars spent on its growth annually (Wanamaker & Nudelman, 2007).
People Who Made an Impact on American Cinema
Many personalities contributed to the growth of Hollywood and made an enormous impact on American cinema. In 1885, George Eastman and William Walker invented the first film for motion photography. One should also mention the names of the brothers Auguste and Louis Lumiere who created a hand-cranked machine, the cinematographe. The first Hollywood movie, The Squaw Man, was made by Cecil DeMille in 1914.
The rise of Hollywood filmmaking is associated with the director D.W. Griffith and his acting troupe. The first movie shot in Hollywood by Griffith was In Old California. Griffith’s success in Hollywood was obvious as he made a few films there before coming back to New York. Moreover, Los Angeles became a place of inspiration for the director. One should also remember the names of such ambitious people as the Warner Brothers, Louis B. Mayer, Adolph Zukor, Carl Laemmle, William Fox, and Samuel Goldwyn. Those personalities turned movie production into a business and became the heads of cinema studios that were essential components of American cinema.
Walt Disney also made a substantial contribution to Hollywood film industry. In 1926, he founded a studio that became the second largest broadcasting company in the world. It is necessary to mention that the history of American cinema is full of prominent figures. First of all, it is David Fincher, the director of The Fight Club, The Social Network, and Zodiac. Not without a reason, he is considered one of the best directors of the 21st century. Wes Anderson is another important person in American cinema. He produced such movies as The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Rushmore. His movies are characterized by social and distinctive visual meanings.
Christopher Nolan is another prominent Hollywood director, who is known for such genres as drama, sci-fi, and psychological thriller. Thus, the most famous films directed by Nolan are Interstellar, Inception, and Dark Knight. Moreover, it is necessary to mention the names of such influential men as Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino, who are creating the modern cinema. Steven Spielberg is a director, screenwriter, and producer, whose movies cover diverse themes and genres. Quentin Tarantino is an actor, producer, screenwriter, and film director. His movies are characterized by aestheticization of violence and non-linear storylines.
Hollywood and World War II and the Cold War
It is necessary to mention that World War II was the most profitable decade for Hollywood. During World War II, Hollywood functioned as a propaganda agency that collaborated with the Office of War Information. Filmmakers recorded and photographed wartime activities. However, the Office of War Information regulated the content of Hollywood films (Wanamaker, 2009). It means that wartime brought some restrictions to filmmakers’ projects. Thus, they had to display World War II in a positive light. Furthermore, Hollywood stars appeared in the advertisements promoting war bonds to support the USA in the military activities (Connolly, 2014).
During the Cold War, films were used as a means of propaganda and controlling public opinion. As the USA had an advantage over the Soviet Union in cinema production, it involved filmmakers in creating the image of the Communist enemy. It means that Hollywood filmmakers incorporated many themes and genres related to the Cold War and relationships between the USA and the Soviet Union. Consequently, Hollywood produced many spy films to create enemies in such way (Newbould, 2015).
Hollywood’s Vision of the Middle East Before the 9/11 and the 90s
Hollywood’s vision and understanding of the Middle East before the 9/11 and the 90s were stereotypical. Relying on Hollywood’s cinematography during World War II and the Cold War, one should say that Hollywood continued to play the role of a propagandist fulfilling the objectives of the American imperial project. It is necessary to say that it was preconditioned by the demise of the Soviet Union, the Iranian Islamic revolution, the creation of Israel, and other political activities. Hollywood’s presentation of Arabs allows the USA impose an idea on other countries that the Middle East is an alien. Moreover, Hollywood proved its status of the area for American power (Arti, 2007).
One should mention that even before the 9/11, Hollywood showed the world pictures of terrorism and extremism about the Middle East. Therefore, the terroristic act of September 11 only reinforced their negative attitude to Muslims and their culture. In American movies, Arabs played the roles of ‘foreign devils’ and ‘comic villains.’ Moreover, they involved both cultural and political interests of their country. From the earliest days of Hollywood, filmmakers depicted Middle Easterners in exotic ethnic terms, reinforcing the idea of racism. Furthermore, it was a good way to underline that American were ‘good guys,’ and somebody should perform the role of ‘a bad boy.’ Thus, Hollywood filmmakers sharpened the stereotypical image of ‘otherness,’ and the terroristic act of September 11 was not a trigger of this process. It was believed that such vision and depiction of Arabs was motivated by the U.S. imperial objectives (Arti, 2007).
It is evident that the stereotypical image of Muslims in Hollywood movies was very negative, and one can explain this by the cultural gap between the West and the East. Moreover, Orientalism as a self-serving view of Arabs also played an important role. Consequently, the earliest productions of Hollywood movies depicted Egyptian Arabs as sinister, awful, and barbaric villains. Later, Hollywood filmmakers proceeded to depict Arabs not only as villains bus as people without moral values and honor, which is evident in The Hostage (1986-1992). Moreover, American cinema depicted Muslims as those who needed American assistance from the oppressive government, as in the movie Three Kings (1999). It means that Hollywood repeated the political line of the USA.
Early Hollywood productions depicted the Middle East in terms of backwardness, irrationality, mastery and decadence, desert dwellers, magic lamps, and harems. It is evident that their understanding of the Arabian culture was limited and superficial. Furthermore, Hollywood filmmakers were more interested in collecting information about terroristic organization than in studying the peculiarities of the Oriental culture. One should mention that Hollywood’s presentation of the Middle East was based on depiction of its threatening culture. It is unjust that Hollywood depicted Arabs as totally bad and negative and projected that all of them were enemies of the world. Moreover, there was no American film showing Arabs as environmentalists, engineers, homemakers, doctors, bankers, lawyers, and talented and hospitable citizens (Arti, 2007).
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Hollywood’s Vision of the Middle East after 9/11
After 9/11 terrorist act in the USA, the portrayal of the Middle East has not changed. On the contrary, it has even become worse. Thus, whereas Hollywood has been depicting Arabs as terrorists and villains earlier, currently, American filmmakers relate their stereotypical understanding of Muslims solely to the terrorist attack of September 11. Thus, Arabs are shown in relation to religious and racial issues, and their contribution to literature, agriculture, science, and architecture is totally ignored. It is evident that Hollywood filmmakers regard only the negative side of the medal as it is comfortable for the American politics. Moreover, they depict the USA as a noble power struggling against terrorists, like in the Oscar-nominated American Shiper. It is obvious that Hollywood is a wonderful instrument for the creation of stereotypes, influencing human minds, and manipulating people.
The list of movies related to the Middle East that were produced by Hollywood is very long. It includes films such as Three Kings, The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty, Syriana, The Kingdom, Delta Force, and Black Hawk Down (Newbould, 2015). It means that Hollywood filmmakers continue projecting all Arabs as a public enemy terrorizing civilized Westerners. Moreover, Middle Eastern filmmakers insist that Hollywood has two approaches to the portrayal of their citizens: as the super rich ones and the war-torn ultra-conservative ones (Connoly, 2014). One should mention that Hollywood films negative depict not only Middle Eastern men but also women and children. Thus, children are always portrayed as robbers’ and killers’ assistants. It is evident that the terroristic act of September 11 only sharpened the image of Muslims in Hollywood movies (Newbould, 2015).
Hollywood shows the streets of every Middle Eastern country filled with armed men. It is obvious that it continues to impose the feelings of fear and terror on those who want to visit these countries. There is also a thought that the Middle East currently performs the role of the Soviet Union, who always was an American enemy. Consequently, the end of the Cold War provoked a shift from Soviet Communists to Arabs. Thus, Arabs often play enemy roles in American movies. One should also mention that Hollywood filmmakers build their films on the principle of ‘otherness,’ which creates a gap between the West and the East, and depict Arabs as dangerous, backward, and primitive people who need American aid (Newbould, 2015).
In conclusion, it is necessary to say that Hollywood has brought about a revolution not only of American but also world cinema. It is associated with many prominent personalities who succeed in the production, studio creation, acting and genre development. However, the problem is that Hollywood remains an instrument for propaganda and manipulation. First, it is evident from Hollywood movies during World War II, when American cinema was at the peak of its success. Second, it is obvious in the depiction of the relationships between the USA and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. However, currently, Hollywood filmmakers also have an enemy for depiction, which is the Middle East. It is portrayed based on the established negative cliches, the historical background of the country, racism, and terrorism. It means that Hollywood production is the weapon in the hands of American politics, which has a geopolitical interest in the Middle Eastern countries.