While we always want to encourage you to watch Arab films, sometimes it’s good to step away from the screen and grab a book! I wanted to share a few books about Arab cinema as well as the representation of Arab people and culture in film and media that I have on my own reading list this year. Reading these books about Arab cinema can help provide context and a deeper understanding of the history of the industry.
Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People by Jack G. Shaheen
This book, by award-winning film authority Jack Shaheen, makes the case that “Arab” has long been shorthand for “bad guy” in Hollywood, even after the industry shifted its portrayal of other minority groups. Reel Bad Arabs is a comprehensive study of over one thousand films where Shaheen documents the tendency of portraying Muslim Arabs as brutal, heartless, uncivilized people who are bent on terrorizing civilized Westerners. The book is more of an encyclopedia rather than a standard read but it features an extensive introduction explaining the history of Arab portrayal in Hollywood. A documentary bt the same name was released in 2006 as an extension of the book.
Jack Shaheen is also the author of A is for Arab: Archiving Stereotypes in US Popular Culture, The TV Arab and Guilty: Hollywood’s Verdict on Arabs after 9/11, these books continue the exploration of the representation of Arabs in Western media, expanding the focus into television programming and studying the effects of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on how Arabs are treated in entertainment.
Arab Cinema: History and Cultural Identity By Viola Shafik
Arab Cinema was first published in 1998 and has become known as an indispensable work for scholars of film and the contemporary Middle East. The book combines both a detailed narrative history and thought-provoking analysis in order to provide a comprehensive overview of cinema in the Arab world. It has recently been updated and revised to reflect cultural shifts and new developments in cinema. Author Viola Shafik is a freelance film scholar and filmmaker. She has directed several documentaries including The Lemon Tree (1993).
Viola Shafik is also the author of Popular Egyptian Cinema: Gender, Class and Nation a book in which she examines a number of the biggest films from Egypt against the backdrop of the country’s overall socio-political development, from the emergence of the film industry in the 1930s, through the Nasser and Sadat eras, up to the era of globalization.
Arab Cinema Travels: Transnational Syria, Palestine, Dubai and Beyond By Kay Dickinson
Kay Dickinson’s Arab Cinema Travels offers a fascinating and expansive examination of Arab film culture in wider historical and geopolitical contexts. It explores the impact of travel and mobility on the nature of Arab cinema. This book is considered essential ready for students of film and media studies as well as Arabic and Middle Eastern studies. Dickinson is currently a professor at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema at Concordia University in Canada.
Kay Dickinson is also the author of Arab Film and Video Manifestos: Forty-Five Years of the Moving Image Amid Revolution. This book presents five key documents that have fundamentally shaken up and helped change the face of image culture in the Middle East and beyond.
Read these books about Arab cinema already? Check out our post Learning About Arab Film & Cinema for more book recommendations and other resources for learning about Arab film and media representation.
What should I read next? Let me know your own recommendations of books about Arab cinema.