Local author to co-host TV show on race in film

July 1, 2011 

  • Hilton Head Island resident Jack Shaheen is the author of "Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People."

    He will co-host the series "Race & Hollywood: Arab Images on Film" on Turner Classic Movies in July.

Shattering the sterotypes of Arabs and Muslims on film and in the media is Jack Shaheen's speciality.

Author and Middle East media consultant Shaheen, a resident of Hilton Head Island, will co-host the series "Race & Hollywood: Arab Images on Film" with Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne at 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays in July. Shaheen and Osborne will introduce and discuss 32 films and five shorts, including cartoons.

Shaheen, 75, author of "Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People," hopes his insight on the series will reveal and debunk stereotypes "that have been with us more than a century." The series is the sixth installment of TCM's Race & Hollywood Project that explores cinematic portrayals of different racial and cultural groups.

"Who benefits from our prejudices? ... If there are no benefits, why do we continue to do it?" he asked.

The oldest of three children of Christian Lebanese immigrants, Shaheen was raised in Pennsylvania by his mother and grandparents. Their home "was a center for ethnic sharing. Our door was always open," he said of their multicultural neighbors and friends.

A movie theater usher at age 12, Shaheen consulted on the portrayal of Arabs in the award-winning films "Three Kings" (1999) and "Syriana" (2005), working with stars such as Hollywood heavyweight George Clooney.

"In even-handed portrayals, such as 'Three Kings,' you don't walk away hating anyone," Shaheen said. "The main point is we have unlearned or begun to unlearn prejudices of many groups, but we still have a long way to go."

Bringing attention to negative images and educating the public has been Shaheen's life's work. He is a distinguished visiting scholar at New York University's Asian/Pacific/American Institute and The Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies. For 25 years, he was professor of mass communications of Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, Ill. In 1975, after a year as a Fulbright teacher at the American University of Beirut, Shaheen returned to the United States and began feeling "even more sensitive to the negative images of Arabs and Muslims."

Shaheen, who moved to Hilton Head in 1995, continues to lecture, write and consult. He regularly appears on programs such as "Nightline," "Good Morning America," "48 Hours" and "The Today Show." He is a consultant with television and motion picture companies, including Warner Bros., DreamWorks, Hanna-Barbera and Showtime.

"While prejudices are learned, some through media, you have to unlearn prejudices through exposure," he said. "The things you watch on TV just reinforce racism. We live in an era now where we are still locked into channels that reinforce our beliefs. We have to break out of that and shatter that mythology."

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