Representations of the Muslim World in U.S Cinema, Post 9/11: The First 10 Years
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
A book is due to be published in the future with elements drawn from this thesis
The purpose of this thesis stemmed from the notion that the events of 9/11 would have a profound effect on how representations of Muslims on screen would need to be altered to match the political climate, and to project the trauma that the American public had experienced. However, in the course of the study it has emerged that changes to the old-style stereotypical representations might have been influenced by factors other than politics. By comparing and dissecting the content of films that displayed Islamic characteristics from a pre-9/11 standpoint, I have been able to assess the degree to which visual and narrative changes have been implemented. I open with an introduction that establishes the framework and theories related to the emergence, maintenance and reformulation of stereotypes. I review the process of representing various ‘outsider’ groups in American cinema before attempting to trace against this the gradual shift in Islamic characteristics found in the movies of the pre- and post-9/11 periods. The analysis includes definitions of the settings, locale, landscape and space as displayed on the theatrical screen. I discover that Muslim spaces which simply provided a setting for the action in the past are now acknowledged in terms of their interaction with their inhabitants. In much the same way that landscapes have been adapted from past cinematic depictions of the pre-9/11 period, male and female characters are found to be constructed through a new perspective, allowing them to look more ‘human’ compared to their monolithic antecedents. The study also examines the rise of formidable American female characters and their victimization of the Muslim male ‘Other’. The current investigation is not limited to the depiction of adults only. The Muslim child/adolescent has become a recent device through which American filmmakers are exercising their creativity. Themes of childhood loyalty, disloyalty and redemption are explored in the case of Muslim youngsters, while the Muslim American youth is presented as the ‘hybrid Other’ desperately in search of his or her complex identity. Although there still exist examples of utilizing the overseas Muslim minor as a product of religious fanaticism, 9/11 initiated a new form of looking at a child. Artistic devices that have found their way into the commercial crop of U.S. movies include inner and external focalization, thus encouraging audiences’ empathy for the child who had until recently been treated as an image on the screen rather than a character in the narrative. The findings indicate that during the decade under consideration American cinema has not drawn as sharp a cultural line between the ‘Orient’ and the ‘Occident’ as it used to. Comparative work of this kind, with its focus on past and present cinematic depictions of the Muslim world, is beneficial, for it shows that there is eagerness in the U.S. to explore and reflect more on the characteristics of the Muslim ‘Other’ – an eagerness which will prove in the long run to be in the interests of both the East and the West.
PhD in English