Instructor: Dr. Matthew A. MacDonald
After hearing about all the laughter my friends had while watching the movie The Dictator, I was actually excited to go see a movie at the theaters for once. However, as the movie ended and I was walking back to my car, I realized that what my friends thought was hysterically funny was actually mockery done to my own race and culture which I couldn’t find funny at all. In any circumstance, inventing a stereotype against a certain group or person can have many negative outcomes. People of dominant cultures can create false images towards a minority culture in order to ridicule or discriminate against them. One example of how Stereotyping can create false representations towards a minority group can be shown though the American film industry In the movie The Dictator directed by Larry Charles. Sacha Baron Cohen plays General Admiral Haffaz Aladeen, a dictator of the fictional North African country of Wadiya Who resembles Libya's Colonel Moammar Gadhafi with an Osama bin Laden beard. Aladeen oppresses his people from the comfort of his sprawling, sleeps with movie stars and orders the execution of his underlings for the silliest of perceived offenses which sadly but true has been in many Arab and middle eastern Diplomatic biography’s till this day. After a visit to New York and his beard forcedly shaved off, Aladeen struggles for people to recognize him in order to save his position as dictator and continue to rule his non democratic country. Throughout the movie, I noticed that everyone in the movie theater would laugh even harder when it came to the racist comments and the perpetuating negative stereotypes against Arabs. This left me dismayed by Baron Cohen's depiction of Admiral General Aladeen . I'm known to take a good joke but, why is it okay for Hollywood to degrade, insult, dehumanize, belittle and perpetuate racist stereotypes of a minority for entertainment and people are not only supposed to be alright with but also laugh. Do the creators of this movie actually expect middle easterners and Arabs to participate in their own dehumanization and not get upset because they are laughable and idiotic at best and terrorists at worst? This type of media representation can create a widespread of ignorance among a general population and dehumanization of people of a culture. The media will constantly by fueled by a misinformed and biased media and it is clear that media representation is a fundamental problem that has led to racism and counterproductive government policies. There are many examples in the movie that offer an in accurate portrayal on Arabs and people of the Middle East. However it is clear that that biggest example is the character of the Dictator himself. It is important to acknowledge that the movie portrays the Dictator as a North African savage who jokes about murder and repression. This is enough evidence right away to prove that the movie is based on false stereotypes. Not only did the creators of the movie name the Dictator Aladeen which by coincidence is known as a famous Arab Walt Disney character, but also Cohen’s depiction of negative Arabic stereotypes reinforces a deeper political undertone. Recently, the United States was responsible for the removal of several Arabic dictators such as Muammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein. This movie only makes fun of the situations that been happening in the middle east which doesn’t help with the circumstances at all. Another great example of misrepresentation against Arabs can be seen while General Aladeen continues to demonize deceased foreign leaders and prolongs the thirst for war. Throughout the whole movie Aladeen is working on a mass Nuclear Weapon of destruction and chuckles while explaining to his people that he will be using it for medical purposes. When the United Nations demands Aladeen’s presence in New York to clear the air about his nuclear energy program he laughs but decides to go anyway. At times like this where Iran is on the news continuously because of their supposed threat of nuclear weapons I find it an obscured time to bring out a movie like this to scare the world even more than they already are on this topic. The backdrop is real and no joke. The war threats are taken from real life, real violations of international law. The nuclear issue in both the media and in the film is a one-sided Western dominated narrative. The Dictator is disposable humor at the expense of Arab stereotypes and will do nothing to further race relations or peace in the world. Another great example in the movie that depicts false stereotypes is the scene where Aladeen and his Friend have to go on a small plane with white people sitting in front of them. The whole scene in the plane Aladeen Talks in another language which sounds like Arabic and makes jokes about 9/11. The people on the plane sitting in front of him judge him right away by his looks and his language and suddenly start to scream thinking he was about to commit a terrorist attack. Aladeen and his friend end up getting arrested due to being suspicious terrorists. Post 9/11 attacks Arabs and people of Middle Eastern decent have been victimized and targeted in airports all around the world due to looking the part of a terrorist. As the war on terrorism escalated, varying incidents concerning racial profiling became popular at airports all around the world. Some expressed concern that as long as public fear continued, racism would persist, and racial profiling would be the ultimate outcome of the so-called terrorist profiling (Johnson,2011).
Media is a crucial medium that can influence ones thoughts and perceptions about different groups in society. Throughout many years, people have depended on the media to deliver news about what’s going on across the world. Movies and television shows have acted as hyper needle models affecting ones thoughts about groups of societies and ethnic races. Above all, it is through these various media outlets that our relations with others, both neighbours and strangers, are facilitated or, indeed, denied. Arabs and South Asians have long been ghettoized in Hollywood, playing almost exclusively cab drivers, deli workers, terrorists and the occasional "good" guy who works with law enforcement, and who is usually killed later in the movie by a bad "brown" guy. The media has the privilege of putting false meaning towards images because audiences simply act as homogeneous mass taking consumers believing most of what they see or hear.The Dictator, which centers on the stereotypical caricature of an Arab/Muslim leader designed to make the entire Arab world and Muslim faith look bad. The very premise of the movie is offensive. It trivializes the senseless torture, imprisonment, and murder of civilians when death is never funny.