Tunisian director Ferid Boughedir addressed Hollywood’s depiction of the Middle East at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival.
Middle Eastern cinema is fighting to combat cliché’s around Arabs and Muslims generated by Hollywood, according to a panel at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival.
The panel, titled Spotlight on Arab Directors’ First Films, was asked if there was concern about the negative representation of people from the Middle East in US films.
Tunisian director Ferid Boughedir, whose 1990 debut Halfaouine: Boy of the Terraces is being screened at the festival, responded: “When we make a film we sometimes try to restore truth… One of our jobs is to fight against cliché and stereotypes.
“Previously, the enemy in Hollywood films was communism - the ‘Red Scare’. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was a new enemy – the ‘Green Scare’.
“The villain who used to be a bad Russian is now the bad Arab or the bad Muslim, who is always violent, a cheat, a liar.”
Boughedir recalled how this attitude impacted the financing of his coming-of-age drama Halfaouine.
“Seeking co-production, I sent the script to ZDF in Germany,” he said. “The film was going to show our culture from within, reflecting my experiences.
“Unlike the stereotype, I met a lot of Arab women who weren’t veiled or jaded. They were normal, cheerful, free to talk and I wanted to put that in my film.
“The response from German TV was ‘We won’t finance your film because it’s not showing the true, horrible situation of the Arab woman. In your film, Arab women are laughing. This isn’t normal. This is a propaganda film and you want to make us believe Arab women can laugh and make jokes. We know they are suffering and your duty is to show the sufferance of Arab women.’”
Boughedir suggested that the best way to combat the current Hollywood view of people from the Middle East was to “express the truth” through film.
Mohammed Rouda, the chief film critic at Arabic newspaper Asharq Al Awsat, added: “The answer is to make better films. Every filmmaker has a message whether he’s is from Vietnam, Cuba, the USA, France, Tunisia. This message should be to present society in better terms.
“When a good film is presented internationally – even if it doesn’t talk directly about Islam and Arabs – it will be enough to tackle clichés.”