The (Un)wanted American: A Visual Reading of Arab and Muslim Americans

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Soliman, Mounira
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서울대학교 미국학연구소
미국학, Vol.34 No.2, pp. 175-196
Arab and Muslim AmericansStereotyping and discriminationBinary condition
As a consequence of its efforts to round up suspected immigrants after the attacks of 9/11, the U.S. government has ended up ostracizing a whole community. Indeed, at a recent gathering in New York City (02/18/2010), the Arab American Association organized a town hall meeting in Brooklyn to voice their concerns over the U.S. immigration system which insists on stereotyping Arab and Muslim immigrants, looking upon them suspiciously, and exercising forms of discriminatory behavior against them. Nine years after 9/11, the Arab/Muslim community poses valid questions pertaining to their status as the unwanted American.

For many years, pre and post 9/11, Hollywood films have capitalized on the image of the “Reel Bad Arabs”, partly to explain practices of discrimination committed in the name of national security. On the other hand, the image of the victimized immigrant who leaves his/her county in pursuit of the American dream only to end up disillusioned has become very popular, particularly in Arabic cinema, especially after 9/11. With time such stereotypes have naturalized the prejudices of both Americans and Arabs, creating more suspicion and antagonism on both sides.

In this paper, I will analyze the image of the Arab and Muslim immigrant as it appears in some recent films (produced post 9/11) that attempt to counter the stereotype of the terrorist Muslim and the victimized Arab. Some of these films include The Visitor by Thomas McCarthy (2007), Amreeka (America) by Cherien Dabis (2009), and My Name is Khan by Karan Johar (2010). By comparing the portrayal of the Arab and Muslim immigrant in these films, I question the production and propagation of the image of the unwanted American.
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Researcher Institutes (연구소)American Studies Institute (미국학연구소)미국학미국학 Volume 34 Number 1/2 (2011)
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