Tag Archives: Persians

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

by Guest Contributor Jehanzeb Dar, originally published at Muslim Reverie

If you’re having trouble trying to figure out what’s wrong with this newly revealed poster for Disney’s upcoming film, “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” it may help if I pointed out that the title character is played by Jake Gyllenhaal. In other words, the prince of Persia is not played by a Persian/Iranian. Big surprise, huh?

Why is this a big deal? Well, considering that negative perceptions of Middle-Easterners and/or Muslims have increased since 9/11 (and haven’t gotten better according to statistics and civil rights incidents reported by CAIR), a relatively anticipated film like “Prince of Persia” would seem like the perfect opportunity to help break stereotypes and misconceptions about Middle-Easterners. The film is based on a very popular video game of the same title, which allows you to play the role of a Persian prince who has to save his kingdom (or world) from a time-altered reality. I remember playing the game when it was released in 2003 and even though it’s filled with Orientalist stereotypes, I always felt the story and character depictions could be tweaked into a mainstream film with serious potential (and by that, I mean a film with an actual story, real character development, and appreciation for the culture it intends to represent).

Unfortunately, Jake Gyllenhaal isn’t the only White actor playing a Middle-Eastern character. Gemma Arterton, who plays Tamina, the film’s version of Farah, an Indian character from the video game, is also White. Ben Kingsley is also cast as a Persian character, and while he is of half-Indian descent, many Iranians recall how poorly he played an Iranian father in “House of Sand and Fog.” The best part (sarcasm) is that Alfred Molina will play a Persian again after his abusive and oppressive Iranian husband role in the 1991 propaganda film, “Not Without My Daughter”! As a user on IMDB commented: “Tamina = Indian / Gemma Arterton= White; What the hell is going on?”

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Frank Miller’s “300″ and the Persistence of Accepted Racism

by Guest Contributor Jehanzeb Dar, originally published at Broken Mystic

When Frank Miller’s “300″ film was released, I was absolutely outraged by the racist content of the film and more so at the insensitivity of movie-goers who simply argued “it’s just a movie.” Later on, I would hear these same individuals say, “The movie makes you want to slice up some Persians.” I wrote an article about the film almost immediately after it was released, and now that I’m still noticing people quoting the movie or listing it as their “favorite movies,” I’ve decided to update my original post and discuss some points that will hopefully shed some new light.

“300” not only represents the ever-growing trend of accepted racism towards Middle-Easterners in mainstream media and society, but also the reinforcement of Samuel P. Huntington’s overly clichéd, yet persisting, theory of “The Clash of Civilizations,” which proposes that cultural and religious differences are the primary sources for war and conflict rather than political, ideological, and/or economic differences. The fact that “300” grossed nearly $500 million worldwide in the box office may not be enough to suggest that movie-goers share the film’s racist and jingoistic views, but it is enough to indicate how successful such a film can be without many people noticing its relentless racist content. As Osagie K. Obasogie wrote in a brilliant critique of the film, “300” is “arguably the most racially charged film since D. W. Griffith’s ‘The Birth of a Nation’” – the latter being a 1915 silent film that celebrated the Ku Klux Klan’s rise to defend the South against liberated African-Americans. Oddly enough, both films were immensely successful despite protests and charges of racism.

Media imagery is very important to study. Without analyzing and critiquing images in pop culture, especially controversial and reoccurring images, we are ignoring the most powerful medium in which people receive their information from. A novel, for example, may appeal to a large demographic, but a film appeals to a much wider audience not only because of recent video-sharing websites and other internet advancements, but also because the information is so much easier to process and absorb.

According to the Cultivation Theory, a social theory developed by George Gerbner and Larry Gross, television is the most powerful storyteller in culture – it repeats the myths, ideologies, and facts and patterns of standardized roles and behaviors that define social order. Music videos, for example, cultivate a pattern of images that establish socialized norms about gender. In a typical western music video, you may see female singers like Brittany Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Beyonce wearing the scantiest of clothing and dancing in erotic and provocative ways that merely cater to their heterosexual male audiences. These images of women appear so frequently and repetitively that they develop an expectation for women in the music industry, i.e. in order to be successful, a woman needs to have a certain body type, fit society’s ideal for beauty, and dance half-nakedly. Stereotypical images of men in music videos, on the other hand, include violent-related imagery, “pimping” with multiple women, and showing off luxury. Such images make violence and promiscuous sexual behavior “cool” and more acceptable for males. As we can see from two studies by Greeson & Williams (1986) and Kalof (1999), exposure to stereotypical images of gender and sexual content in music videos increase older adolescents’ acceptance of non-marital sexual behavior and interpersonal violence.

Cognitive Social Learning Theory is another social theory which posits, in respect to media, that television presents us with attractive and relatable models for us to shape our experiences from. In other words, a person may learn particular behaviors and knowledge through observing the images displayed on television. A person may also emulate the behavior of a particular character in a film or television show, especially if a close-identification is established between the viewer and the character. Both theories – Cultivation Theory and Cognitive Social Learning Theory – apply in my following analysis of “300.”

In order to deconstruct “300,” I will start by (1) discussing its distortion of history, then (2) contrast the film’s representation of Persians and Spartans, (3) correlate Frank Miller’s Islamophobic remarks on NPR with the messages conveyed in “300,” and (4) conclude with the importance of confronting stereotypical images in mainstream media and acknowledging the contributions of all societies and civilizations. Continue reading