Dr. Waleed Mahdi’s book, Arab Americans in Film: From Hollywood and Egyptian Stereotypes to Self-Representation (Syracuse University Press) offers a comparative analysis of the portrayals of Arab Americans in film and interrogates how such representations have been, and continue to be, disrupted and challenged.
By approaching such cinematic representations as a critical site of inquiry from which to analyze the shape of national identity, then, Arab Americans in Film questions the role of cultural productions in perpetuating images of exclusion and inclusion, and the possibility of re-narrating the Arab American experience beyond such imperatives.
In examining the cultural production of Arab American identity in film, Arab Americans in Film importantly unsettles ‘the national’ as a theoretical category of analysis to illustrate how the construction of Arab American ‘Otherness’ is not simply a product of U.S. orientalist histories but of constructions of the ‘Self’ and ‘Other’ which exist in both US and Arab state national narratives.
In so doing, the book captures the multi-layered articulations of Arab American subjectivity across US and Arab collective memories and filmmaking industries in an effort to explore the heterogeneity of Arab Americans’ consciousness in ways which locate their narratives at the crossroads of the individual and the collective, the local and the national, and the national and the transnational.
Through an in-depth discussion of a wide variety of films from three distinct, and yet comparable, cinematic genres – Hollywood cinema, Egyptian cinema, and Arab American cinema – Arab Americans in Film traces the competing narratives of Arab American belonging to enhance the understanding of how Othering is at once constructed and challenged, and what is at stake in those ongoing, parallel processes.
Waleed Mahdi is an assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma with joint affiliations in the Department of International and Area Studies and the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics.
This interview is part of an NBN special series on "Mobilities and Methods".
Josephine Chaet is a doctoral student in the department of Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her work focuses on questions of authoritarian politics and women's organizing in Amman, Jordan.'
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