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ABU DHABI: Challenging Muslim stereotypes

October 21, 2008 |  9:14 am

SarandonWhy are Muslims often portrayed in Hollywood films as lunatic terrorists plotting to plant bombs? How come they're almost never depicted as athletes or lawyers?

These questions were at the center of this year’s Middle East Film Festival last week in Abu Dhabi, which is trying to market itself as a cinema hub for the Arab region and the Persian Gulf.

Some U.S. stars present at the festival made a point of showing their appreciation of Arab culture. Actress Susan Sarandon, who appeared at the festival wearing an Arabian style dress (Abaya), spoke to reporters about the importance of movies in educating the general public about the different parts of the world:

We have a limited view of what is going on in this part of the world. The American media and Internet, for all its good points, are increasingly unreliable sources of information. ... Hollywood is a bunch of big corporations who make movies which are marketable, not that will make a difference.

Sarandon, who is known for her role in the ground-breaking road movie "Thelma and Louise," was presenting the documentary "The Shape of Water," in which she narrates the challenges faced by women in the Middle East.

Preacher Moss, an African-American comedian who converted to Islam, also highlighted the issue of clichéd depiction of Muslims in the U.S. media.

He said in an interview in the Abu Dhabi daily, the National

“The worst thing a Muslim can do after 9/11 is apologize for something you didn’t do. ... Unfortunately, the Muslim image is being manufactured in the U.S. by Hollywood and exported to the rest of the world.”

Moss produced recently a movie called "Allah Made Me Funny," which is a series of stand-up comedy performances tackling beards, polygamy and Muslims or “Muslim-looking” people going through airport security.

By the end of the festival, experts from the entertainment industry and policymakers launched a gathering to address the issue of “negative stereotyping” of Muslims and Arabs propagated by Hollywood.

MOST (Muslims on Screen and Television) will focus on establishing contacts between American and Arab filmmakers.   

Talking about this initiative, Mohamed Khalaf Al Mazrouei, vice chairman of the festival told reporters:

"At a time of great tension and mutual suspicion between the United States and the Muslim world, there remains a critical need for increased understanding and accurate representation on both sides."

The Middle East festival, which ended on Saturday, included 70 movies including feature and short films and documentaries all competing for the Black Pearl Awards with prizes totaling more than $1 million.

-- Raed Rafei in Beirut.

Photo: Actress Susan Sarandon, wearing an Abaya, arrives to attend an ceremony honouring Hollywood actress Jane Fonda during the Middle East International Film Festival in Abu Dhabi on Oct. 15. Credit: Marwan Naamani / AFP / Getty Images

P.S. Get news from the Middle East in your mailbox every day. The Los Angeles Times distributes a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, as well as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can subscribe by logging in at the website here, clicking on the box for "L.A. Times updates" and then clicking on the "World: Mideast" box.

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