Jack Shaheen’s effort to put an end to media stereotypes of Muslims goes back long before the global backlash to the “Innocence of Muslims” movie or the furor over European newspapers’ cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
They go back to images of Arabs depicted in “these terrible cartoons featuring Popeye, Porky Pig, Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner” that his children were watching, Shaheen said in a recent interview.
Ever since, he’s been on a campaign to change the way Hollywood and the American public views Arabs and Muslims.
On Sunday (Oct. 7), Shaheen will give the 12th Annual Maryse and Ramzy Mikhail Memorial Lecture on the topic “Images of Arabs and Muslims in Popular Culture: Problems and Prospects” at the University of Toledo.
“In every cartoon, there were heroes and villains. And if it’s constantly repeated that the villains are always Arabs, what does a child grow up thinking about Arabs?” he said.
Shaheen has served as an unpaid consultant on the 1998 animated movie Prince of Egypt, advising filmmaker Jeffrey Katzenberg on how certain scenes portrayed Arab characters.
He also received a personal call from actor George Clooney to review the script and consult on the 2005 movie Syriana, and was an adviser on the 1999 movie Three Kings.
“I’ve done three films and it’s a modest beginning,” he said. “It needs to go beyond that. It needs to go beyond one person. I haven’t done anything after Syriana. But I would credit those people as being very sensitive and very cooperative. I’m very proud to have been associated with those films.”
Shaheen is an Arab-American but not a Muslim. He said, however, that everyone needs to stand together to fight prejudice, ignorance and stereotypes.
“I think it’s the responsibility of every man or woman of faith, whether they be Christian, Jewish, or any other religion, to defend Islam and vice versa. Muslims would stand right at our side, or they might even stand in front of us, to help us out,” he said. “Look at the Civil Rights movement. There were many whites involved who stood by the side of Martin Luther King Jr.”
A native of Pittsburg, Shaheen earned degrees from the Carnegie Institute of Technology, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Missouri.
He has written five books, including “Arab and Muslim Stereotyping in American Popular Culture,” “The TV Arab,” and the award-winning book and film, “Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People.”
He has given more than 1,000 lectures throughout the United States and on three continents.
“I think lectures can have a tremendous impact. Every article, every lecture, every TV show, it’s like a pebble in a stream,” Shaheen said. “It evolves and it spreads, and you never know. That’s the beauty of all this. If you can get one person, a single individual, to rethink his or her prejudices, what will that individual do to move forward and influence others?”
Jack Shaheen’s Mikhail lecture, “Images of Arabs and Muslims in Popular Culture: Problems and Prospects,” will be delivered at 3:30 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 7) in the University of Toledo’s Law Center Auditorium. The lecture is free and open to the public.