Jack Shaheen, a outstanding author, scholar and activist who persistently — although diplomatically — challenged damaging stereotypes of Arabs in movie and tv, has died at age eighty one.
Shaheen, who died Sunday in South Carolina after battling most cancers, took on studio executives, provided counsel to actors and administrators and lectured round on the earth in his relentless quest to influence Hollywood to maneuver past the cinematic picture of Arabs as simply “billionaires, bombers and stomach dancers.”
“There isn’t any escaping the Arab stereotype,” Shaheen wrote within the preface to his 2001 ebook “Reel Dangerous Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a Individuals,” earlier than digging into what he stated was the unrelenting portrayal of Arabs and Muslims as barbaric, uncultured, rich and unspeakably violent.
“These notions are as false because the assertions that blacks are lazy, Hispanics are soiled, Jews are grasping and Italians are criminals,” he wrote in “The TV Arab,” a painstaking research of hundred of tv exhibits, from sitcoms to cartoons.
In 1993, his efforts helped persuade Disney to vary the lyrics to the music “Arabian Nights” in its animated musical “Aladdin.”
When the movie premiered, the lyrics appeared the stuff of racism to individuals like Shaheen:
Oh, I come from a land
From a faraway place
The place the camels roam
The place they reduce off your ear
In the event that they don’t like your face
It’s barbaric, however hey, it’s house.
In a opinion piece within the Los Angeles Occasions, Shaheen protested that Disney had managed to ship a painful reminder to tens of millions of Arab People that “the abhorrent Arab stereotype is as ubiquitous as Aladdin’s lamp.”
Disney yielded and trimmed the ear-chopping strains from the video launch of the movie, however refused to erase the “it’s barbaric” line, arguing it was a reference to the panorama, not the individuals who lived there.
It was emblematic of the small victories Shaheen would win. By no means anticipating seismic change in how the business would painting Arabs, he was snug profitable converts one after the other, lecture by lecture, e mail by e mail, e-book by ebook.
“He felt the best disservice can be to face again and say nothing,” his daughter Michele Tasoff stated.
Shaheen was born in Pittsburgh on Sept. 21, 1935, the son of Lebanese immigrants. He grew up in close by Clairton, a, ethnically numerous mill city whose bleakness was captured within the film “The Deer Hunter.” His mom — who raised Shaheen — needed to be a faculty instructor, however settled for being a janitor on the schoolhouse as an alternative so as to present for her three youngsters.
He turned the primary in his household to attend school, graduating from what’s now Carnegie Mellon College in Pittsburgh and incomes a grasp’s diploma in theater arts from Penn State. He acquired a doctorate in communications from the College of Missouri earlier than becoming a member of the school at Southern Illinois College, the place he would train for many years. He additionally was a visiting professor at New York College, the place his archives — papers, notes, scripts, youngsters’s toys and hundreds of movies courting again to the silent film period — are housed on the Hagop Kevorkian Middle.
His drive to seek out and — if potential — root out the unflattering and sometimes ugly portrayals of Arabs in movie arrived when his two youngsters have been watching a cartoon. Once they bumped into the lounge and introduced that there have been “dangerous Arabs” on TV, Shaheen got here in for a glance. He was aghast, and it dawned on him that’s was fairly potential his youngsters would develop up with out ever seeing a “humane Arab” on tv.
He started amassing films, tv exhibits, different media that he believed provided clear and lasting proof that Arabs and Muslims have been not often depicted as abnormal individuals. It was a painful and unsightly process, his daughter stated, however one he felt was vital.
“He was the one who would say ‘This isn’t OK,’” Tasoff stated.
However he made inroads. George Clooney used Shaheen as a advisor on each “Three Kings” and “Syriana,” each set within the Center East, and administrators sought him out for recommendation. He lately consulted on Nickelodeon’s “Shimmer and Shine,” an animated youngsters’s collection a few pair of in-coaching genies. Shaheen and his spouse, Bernice, who labored as his marketing consultant, established a scholarship for Arab American mass communication college students.
“The group misplaced one among its greatest,” stated American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee Chairman Safa Rifka. “His work began a dialog concerning the illustration of Arabs in Hollywood and the necessity for extra nuanced depictions of the group. Dr. Shaheen shall be drastically missed.”
Tasoff stated her father was optimistic, but pragmatic. Ahead momentum might have been slowed with 9/11 and a wave of latest tv exhibits like HBO’s “Homeland.” President Trump’s proposed journey ban provided additional discouragement.
“However he all the time remained hopeful,” she stated.
He’s survived by his spouse, his daughter, a son Michael and 4 granddaughters.