Post-Oriental Otherness: Hollywood’s Moral Geography of Arab Americans

Citation: Mahdi, Waleed F. “Post-Oriental Otherness: Hollywood’s Moral Geography of Arab Americans.” Mashriq and Mahjar: Journal of Middle East and North African Migration Studies 3, no. 2 (2016), 35-61.

Abstract: How do filmmakers in the United States play a role in perpetuating narratives of belonging to the American culture? What is the marking line between Orientalist and post-Orientalist articulations of Arabness? In what ways have the transnational configurations of geopolitics affected the image formations of Arab Americans in Hollywood? This article emerges at the intersection of those inquiries, and provides a historical account of Hollywood’s representation of Arab Americans rooted in the 1970s. This decade, I argue, constitutes a turning point in the industry’s nationalist projections of Arabness from an Orientalist trope for Arabia to a post-Orientalist notion influenced by U.S.-Arab and Arab-Israeli geopolitics. It replaces an earlier moral geography that consumes the Orient while remaining distant from it with a new moral geography that constantly questions Arab Americans’ belonging through narratives of alienness and terrorism. The significance of this work lies in its investigation of the historical trajectory of Hollywood’s engagement with the Arab American cultural identity.

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