Coating Reeling Celluloiding Moroccan Mores Cultural Studies Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Morocco, its geographical terra firma, citizens and culture, has titillated foreigners long times ago, even before the colonial era. Many travellers, writers and anthropologists like Edith Wharton, Paul Bowles, Clifford Geertz, and others have made of Moroccan traditions and civilization the main themes of their books. Amid the western industrial uprising under the patronage of the imperial inclination, cavalcades of western writers and film makers have portrayed Morocco according to the colonialist requirements and desires of the era. The Anglo-American literary and mediatic productions as legatee to the ideology of Western colonies in general, turned their gazing gawk on another Arab space in North Africa, mainly Morocco. The original outset of the Anglo-American interest in Morocco can be traced through successive genres of travel narratives, essays, novels, etc. that seized Morocco as their subject of writing and setting of shooting films down to its strategic and intercontinental locus.

Going back to some historical reviews of the literature written about the representation of Morocco in the Anglo-American cinema and literature, we find that political, economic, and religious motivations are various pretexts that legitimize the western representation of Moroccan people together with their different cultural aspects. In Belated Travelers, Ali Bahdad has shown how westerners from the early travelers to modern tourism have defined the Arab including Moroccan people as "savages", "child like", "sexually thrilling", etc. As an Arab student in the United States, A. Behdad recounts some situations that construe him as a menacing Arab:

I couldn't but feel scapegoated by the power of representation and stereotypes that had transformed me into a metonymy of what the Middle East signifies in the imaginary of the United States; incomprehensible by terrorism and fanaticism. (Belated Travelers, xii)

From the early British literature led by Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe(novel& film) to the American writers led by Paul Bowles' The Sheltering Sky(novel& film), Morocco has been presented in the Anglo-American imaginary as a land of "jinns", "dervishes", "harems", all darkly promiscuous, sly and inscrutable.

The film in its turn as an extension of narratives has sustained the same discourse of novelists, which stresses "the continual reanimation of negative stereotypes of the Arab and Islam in the West today" (Belated Travelers, xiii). Major films shot in Morocco present the Moroccan space -desert and kasbah- as a dangerous setting. Through such representations, film makers seem to seek an identity through military, economic and sexual adventures, in which the Moroccan other is continuously cast as inferior and the dark element of the night. Babel, The Sheltering Sky, Legionnaire, Five Fingers, etc. remain foremost films where film makers insist on the alienating forces of the Moroccan cultural threats, in which the wholesome graciousness of the white character should stand firm. It is rarely that we see some fair characteristics displayed by actors, showing the real image of Moroccans. The favourable setting favoured by film makers is most of the times dirty and shabby districts. The film makers always try to find places even far and may cost them more money just to find a place that can cast Morocco as inferior and uncivilized lacking the basic requirements of life.

Traditional and orientalist writings about Morocco are indistinguishable texts and images affixed and engrafted onto the modish mode of films. From the early talking pictures, Morocco (1930), the classic Casablanca (1942), road comedies Road to Morocco till Five Fingers (2006), Morocco becomes a confining other space and a penal complex for the recalcitrant Anglo-American heroes. The Muslim and Arab gears of prevalently fixed stereotypes are applied likewise to portray Moroccans and supply the requisite background rapscallions, dickhead and wilful, etc. Such representations persevere to inhabit the imaginations and thoughts of the western audience largely and hardly to be changed. Edward Said has clearly identified the function of Arabs in western cinema:

In the films and television the Arab is associated either with lechery or blood thirsty dishonestly. He appears as an oversexed degenerate capable (…) of cleverly devious intrigues, but essentially sadistic, treacherous, low. Slave trader, camel driver, money changer, colourful scoundrel: these are some traditional Arab roles in the cinema. (Orientalism, 286-87)

Unfortunately, Morocco is geographically situated within two antagonist streams of the west as an Arab and African whose religion is Islam; "uncivilized" parts of the world. All types of stereotypes given to Arabs, Muslims and indigenous black Africans are also used identically to describe Moroccans. Throughout history of the Anglo-American cinema, Moroccan characters (Arab, Muslim and African) have served as the quintessential other in foreign cinema. Moroccans have been consistently represented as inferior to the west orally, intellectually, culturally and politically since the early misunderstandings and disagreements during the Barbary Wars.

From the Barbary Wars to Babel and Five Fingers Wars

The history of Anglo-American hostility and disavowal towards Moroccans dates back to the Barbary Wars during the 18th century when Morocco refused the European and American ships to cross the Moroccan coast unless they pay tribute to the state. Though France and England paid tribute, the USA refused to pay even a dollar considering the practice piracy and developed a hostile policy towards the Barbary states (including Morocco) (Chidasey, 1971, p.1 phd). As a result of the USA's refusal to pay tribute, many American ships were captured and many Americans were held as prisoners. Such conflict between Anglo-Americans and Moroccans helped to generate abundant images of Moroccan barbarity towards British and American preyers. Since then the Anglo-American myth about Moroccans as barbarians and savages grows and still manifests its self in the films they produce on Morocco nowadays.

So the story of Babel seems to recount again the story of Barbary wars when Moroccans were considered as pirates and bandits who attack any foreigner bypassing their territory. In this film, the act of shooting the American tourist does show the everlasting American disgust, worry and fear from Moroccans whenever they are going round Moroccan lands. Though the act of shooting took place in the course of bagatelle game by immature and naïve kids, the filmmaker seems to put the blame on the responsible, society and the whole culture that determine the actions and deeds of its inhabitants. This of course goes with the stream of stereotypes promoted about Moroccans across Anglo-American cinematic features. The location of "the bad guys", who shot the American tourist, on the top of mountains is similar to those places of vagabonds and pirates we read about in stories. Representing and tapering Moroccan geography and people into this simplistic image without showing any fine feature of Moroccan mores does illustrate the films message to develop and over-generalize Moroccan barbarism ever since the Barbary Wars. The film Babel was filmed in four different countries: China, USA, Mexico and Morocco; yet, the only dangerous setting and characters happen to be Moroccans. In all other countries, anyone watching the film can see some features of development save for Moroccans who seem uncivilized and goat keepers in the mountains. This stereotype is clearly emphasized when the American lady was hurt and could not find any hospital or means of transport to save her life. Fear is always prevalent in the film as if the film maker informing the audience who wish to visit Morocco to change their plans since there is nothing special to see unless they want to lose their lives.

Historically speaking, Barbary Wars and many other American interests pushed Anglo-American decision makers to create public support for their deeds, especially through films. D.W. GRIFFITH's epic the Birth of a nation (1915) and Passage to India is one among many feature films made with the assistance of the state including Casablanca, Morocco, Road to Morocco for political needs

In the post 9/11 world and London bombardment, where some Moroccans were found guilty and involved in "terrorist" acts, Moroccans again are perceived as antagonistic to western values and a threat to the western stability. In Babel, the film maker clearly shots this belief to show that all Moroccans are against the Anglo-American presence in Morocco including tourists who are bulleted by a small Moroccan child in the mountains. In the film's scenes, CNN reports and considers this event a terrorist attack. In this conjunction, Woll and Miller argue that the Arab image has "stalked the silver screen as a metaphor for anti-western values. The movie Arabs, and the television Arabs, have appeared as lustful, criminal, and exotic villains or foils to western heroes and heroines" (Ethnic and Racial Images in American Film and Television, 79).

Across the films under study, Anglo-American cinematic productions seem highly obsessed by stereotypical images of Moroccans. Arabs and Africans in general and Moroccans in particular are cinematically constructed to possess a wide array of loathsome characteristics: they may be backwards, wild, cruel, blood thirsty, crude, sex-crazed, stupid, dishonest conniving or menacing. Year after year and decade after decade, hundreds of films have flooded the market with a large number of unfavourable Arab and African depictions. In his book, Reel bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People, Jack Shaheen has studied more than one thousand films with major Arab themes and settings, about 40 of which are about Morocco. In his latest book, just after 9/11, Guilty: Hollywood's Verdict on Arabs after 9/11, Shaheen has studied again more than one hundred films about Arabs picturing them as responsible for what is happening now around the world.

Within these bundles of stereotypes, one can wonder about the reason behind all these biased descriptions. As a response to such questions, many scholars like Churchill agree that "it seems necessary to alter realities to assume the maintenance of empire" (Fantasies of the Master Race, 38). Churchill goes on saying that "mere conquest is never the course of empire in the achievement of mission can only be attained through the productive utilization of captured ground" (34). Within the same line of thought, Pieterse writes that "the legacy of several hundred years of western expansion and hegemony, manifested in racism and exotism, continues to be recycled in western cultures" (White on Black: Images of Africa and Blacks in Western Popular Culture, 9). Coming to mediatic representations, we find that Brzezinki in Out of Control: Global Turmoil on the Eve of the 21st Century, Naylor in Cultural Diversity in the United States, and Shohat and Stam in Unthinking Eurocentrism all agree that Hollywood cinema promotes Eurocentric representations in order to further an economic and political propaganda. In the present time, which is characterized by terrorism, we see that the movie discourse of the First and the Second World Wars repeats itself and continues to endorse and legitimize the imperial vision of the "white man's burden". Buschbaum asserts that "as early as the First World War, many western governments recognized the propaganda potential of film (Left Political Filmmaking in the West: The Interwar Years, 26), in the Second World War, in Ross's words, "the movie industry and its key personal exempted from military service" (Cinema and Class Conflict, 82). Other scholars like Martin, Hoberman and Shaheen claim that the best movies of the 1930's promoted colonialism, neo-colonialism and imperialism. These films include Marta Hari, Shangai Express, Tarzan the Ape Man, Flying Down to Rio, etc. During the 1950's, this imperialistic agenda was furthered in films such as those starring Ronald Reagan- Hong Kong, Tropic Zone, Prisoner of War- all uphold the idea of the United States domination of the third world countries and were often made with the government assistance.

Although these biased representations within the commercial films have moderated somehow over years, we can say that the visual image of the other Arab and Moroccan in particular is still very poor. Jack Shaheen in his interesting documentary "Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People" (YouToub Video), explores that the 20th century witnessed a large number of films degrading and distorting the image of Arabs including Moroccans. Anglo-American film industry is now theorizing and supporting wars through different scenes that the audience seems to take for granted. Due to this grave impact that such films have on the targeted viewers, Hoberman finds it very necessary to assign these Eurocentric films a new genre called "war-nography" (Vulgar Modernism, 227). Many films unabashedly affirm traditional Anglo-American values and institutions and negate everything anti-western. Among these movies, we can mention Kingdom of Heaven, Black Hawk Down, True Lies, The Mummy, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Stone Merchant, to name but a few. In my thesis, I will study and attempt to prove that the films made about Morocco: Babel, Casablanca, Hideous Kinky, Five Fingers, The Road to Morocco, A Night in Casablanca, Legionnaire, The Man Who Knew too Much, The Sheltering Sky, Our Man in Marrakesh, Man of Violence, Unveiled, and some others fit within the aforementioned category as well.

In Hideous Kinky, despite some short instances where fairness manifests itself, Moroccans are targeted for stereotypical representations within British films. As Varsey succinctly states: "the British influence in general, and its impact in the area of colonial relations in particular, had far reaching implications for Hollywood's depiction of ethnic difference" (Foreign Parts: Hollywood's Global Distribution and the Representation of Ethnicity, 699). She concludes that Hollywood's representations of ethnic and national difference and the movies modulation of these stereotypes were informed not by the personal psychologies of individual production, but by the economic imperatives of global distribution.

Shome in Race and Popular Cinema: the Rhetorical Strategies of Whiteness in the city of Joy, and Young in Fear of the dark: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Cinema have all concluded that racial representations within cinema exemplify how the discursive productions of whiteness is often complicit in the practices of neo-colonialism.

Religious representations are equally as stereotypical as other cultural portrayals within films. According to Newcombe, film images of people associated with religion typically represent "widely shared level(s) of popular cultural expressions of religious attitudes that are safe neutral, and often used because of their immediate visual qualities" (Religion on Television, 33). These religious representations also serve to support neo-colonialism since they "frequently ritualize the values, beliefs," in Schultze's words, "and even the sensibilities of a people" (Television Drama as Sacred Text, 5). Moroccan religion or Islam in general has been the victim of representations that pre-date the movies' dual purposes of religious loathe and economic exploitation. In this conjunction, Rose elaborates:

There are Muslims who are of different origins, while most, like the majority of Palestinians, are Arabs, the followers of Muhammed are found in parts of the world. There is the dominant religion in such non-Arab states as Bosnia, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia. (They and We: Racial and Ethnic Relations in the United States, 58)

However, in the films under study, the Moroccan Muslims are often depicted as dark Arabs and nomadic heathens because black becomes the colour of the devil and demons. While watching the movies, the majority of Moroccans remain cinematically either part of the movie backdrop or totally invisible. In addition to this stereotypical account, another representative feature that portrays Moroccans in the Anglo-American cinema is that they are doubly misrepresented as Arabs and Africans. Hoberman concurs that the misrepresentation of the Other in general has achieved a state that "had surely blistered the paint and the chrome of the American dream machine. Why should anyone want the facts? Shared fantasies are what hold a people together" (Vulgar Modernism, 328).

Within this religious representation, Moroccans could not escape the Hollywood machine through its films about Morocco, mainly The Five Fingers, which depicted Morocco as a place of terrorist groups and "savage terrorists." What makes this religious representation very perilous is the audience who take things presented through the motion picture for granted may be throughout their lives. In a study conducted by Schaefer, the American sociologist, about school children who watched D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation, he found that "watching the movie made them more favourably inclined towards blacks for five months when children were retested" (Racial and Ethnic Groups, 80). So if school children could not forget the image of blacks presented in The Birth of a Nation, how adults of world audience could overlook the Moroccan image in Babel, Five Fingers, Casablanca, etc., especially if we consider that most people take images as truth based. The audience gameness to believe whatever images they see in the movies is clearly explained by Contreras in Practical Consideration for Living and Working in Contexts of Diversity:

Most individuals are quite capable of forming opinions without adequate prior-knowledge, thus forming a prejudgement either for or against a group, idea, or person. For example, after learning about the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma, how many people immediately thought the explosion had been the work of Arab terrorists? (Cited in Naylor's Cultural Diversity in the United States, 330)

Similarly to what happened during the evens of Oklahoma, moviemakers have tried to instil the idea of Arab terrorism in the minds of the audience either through special effects or real military victories. Balio, Barder, Bordwell and Thompson, Shohat and Stam and Hoberman all concur that the movies have influenced virtually every human activity, from politics and warfare to sexual behaviour and dreaming. It is true that after the events of 9/11 for example, the movies have turned Americans as Hoberman notes into "Bob Hoskins in Toontown, real people wandering around delirious mental landscape of special effects, feel good fantasies, and militaristic spectacles (Vulgar Modernism, 334).

The contemporary approval and greeting of movies feigning Morocco by Anglo-Americans is one of the apparent examples that demonstrate the continuity of the orientalist discourse at higher stages of representation. Films as "a new discursive formation" seem to continue and return to the same images and stereotypes of olden travel narratives and guide books written on Morocco. While talking about continuity and repetition in discourse, Foucault argues that the appearance of a new discursive formation does not necessarily suggest the disappearance of the previous one. In Archeology of Knowledge, Foucault explains this saying that

To say that one discursive formation is substituted for another is not to say that a whole world of absolutely new objects, enunciations, concepts, and theoretical choices emerges fully armed and fully organized in a text that will place that world once and for all; it is to say that a general transformation of relations has occurred, but that it does not necessarily after the elements; it is to say that statements are governed by new rules of formation; it is not to say that all objects or concepts, all enunciations or all theoretical choices disappear . On the contrary, one can, on the basis of these new rules, describe and analyze phenomena of continuity, return, and repetition. ( 191).

Respecting Foucault's words, we can say that the shift of representation from narratives to the cinema does really imply continuity, return and repetition of the previous discursive formation. The rise of movies as a new discursive formation does not lead to the demise or decline of discourse, but a continuity and an extension of cultural domination. This stresses that cinema has marked a continuity of a more complex set of power relations between the "I" and the "other". The inability of film makers to create a new discursive representation far from the earliest images makes them among the supporters of the myth, which is characterized by uncertainty and fear from the "other" in general. Jack Shaheen, in his major film review books Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People, and Guilty: Hollywood's Verdict on Arabs after 9/11, in addition to other articles such as "Orientalism and Cinema" and "Hollywood's Muslim Arabs," has attempted to disclose the images attributed to Arabs, arguing that it is high time for the Anglo-American cinema to alter its ideology that has long affected the Arab people. In an index of more than 900 films in his first book and over 100 post-9/11 films in the second book, Shaheen depicts and debunks the most prevalent stereotypes of "reel Arabs". Unfortunately, after his superbly readable historical survey, Shaheen's list of solutions seem prosaic and lacks deep analysis as Tim Jon Semmerling's in influential book "Evil" Arabs in American Popular Film: Orientalist Fear, has clearly scrutinized:

"because of its cumulative nature, Shaheen's book does not reveal what it could about these films. In fact the book overlooks important and unique "how" and "why" performances and strategies used in the construction of "evil" Arab characters in these films"(3).

Basing his work on Jack Shaheen's "possible new ways of seeing," Semmerling investigates how the Anglo-American feelings of insecurity remain the main possibilities of "why" they keep using "evil" Arabs for their entertainment. Overall, Semmerling's scrutiny of Anglo-American Orientalist fear renders this "evil" Arab as actually an illusion that reveals more about that everlasting and haunting fear from Arabs than just misrepresenting them. This shows that the Arab stereotype will still persist to challenge the Anglo-American national ideologies and myths, which also foreshadows that research on this domain may never fall apart. By analogy, across films representing Morocco, this uncertainty and fear made the film makers violate and break everything good in Moroccan culture.

Two of the most enthusiastically and excitedly entertained films in this category , Babel and Five Fingers engage in inexorable representation of people, buildings, spaces, traditions, etc. in the process of reinforcing some of the "present colonial" stereotypes of Moroccan culture. In the Anglo-American "imaginaire" created by Edith Warton and Powl Bowls, Morocco is a deserted land inhabited by hardhearted vagabonds ready to mug any passer by their country. Inarritu, Alejandro Gonzalez's film Babel deals obsessively with exotic scenes across the film. Moroccan cruelty and pitiless is clearly stressed also in Malkin Lawrence's film Five Fingers as if Moroccans are merciless and callous people. It would seem to anyone watching such films that Moroccans have nothing better to do than killing and making others suffer.

To watch such films one wouldn't get an inkling that Morocco is a nation of 40 million or more people struggling with vital matters of identity, progress and stepping forward. Still the directors' motives of these films are latent in their productions; there are many who directly and willingly scorn and deride Moroccans in public spheres. One of the most shocking examples or scenarios is that of the American director John Derick who had ridiculed the famous Moroccan film maker Abdurahman Tazi. In his interview with the American anthropologist Kivin Dwyer, A. Tazi recounts that dreadful experience which demeaned his pride and Moroccan dignity while working with J. Derick to film Bolero (1984). Unconsciously, J. Derick expresses and voices his latent preconceptions he learnt from early narratives and previous films once facing a difficulty in one of the shots: "what the hell am I doing here in this country [Morocco]? Why didn't I go to Israel, where people are more civilized , where people are less like-savages" (Beyond Casablanca, 44). Such discourse and many other abusive experiences have been reiterated throughout Anglo-American feature films portraying and fetishizing Moroccans.

This incident of J. Derick and A. Tazi's relationship does emphasize the ambivalence of the Anglo-American film maker's discourse. Working together to shot a film does not mean they are the same for J. Derick. Interrogating and disclosing such relation-ship between self/ J. Derick and Other/ A.Tazi within discourse, Bhabha uses the term "ambivalence" to criticize such binary opposition, which provides us with an argument that recognizes the other as different. One of them is given local priority and a positive value, while the other is characterized as the absence of the positive attributes of the first (I). The other is thus denied; he is merely a negation of the I / self. However, this binary opposition is violated when the white man exposes the inferiority of the native and describes him as being perfectly recognizable. Of course, this tendency to appropriate and make the native recognizable is just to contain his threat and retain control over him. The example of J. Derick recognition of A. Tazi shows that the native/ A. Tazi would resemble and duplicate the white man/ J. Derick, but without really erasing the traces of his difference completely. He is doomed to remain, in Bhabha's phrase, "almost the same, but not quite."(The Location of Culture, 86).

With Bhabha self and other are drawn into a Lacanian mirror-image, where the other becomes a confirmation of the white man's image of "superiority". A long with this line of thought, from the psycho-analysis point of view, it is apparent that "the illusory self-production (of the I ) is a denial of rationality, complexity and dependence on the other."(Colonial Fantasies ,7-8).We can say that true recognition is achieved only from one part, whereas the other is excluded. In this view, Hegel asserts in his Phenomenology of Mind that "Self-consciousness in itself and for itself, in that and by the fact it exists for another self-consciousness; that is to say, it is only by being acknowledged or recognizable."(cited in Black Skin, White Masks, 216)

From this passage, we see that the master for Hegel differs basically from the master/ J. Derick we are dealing with. For Hegel, there is a reciprocity between the master and the employee ; on the contrary, our master J. Derick "laughs at the consciousness" of A. Tazi. What he wants from him is not recognition but work; recognition between the two seems impossible. This action from one side only would be useless, in Hegel's words, because what is to happen can only be brought about by means of both. In such a case, they would recognize themselves as mutually recognizing each other. Unlikely, our master will never be able to recognize the native as a full-fledged human being. The power of representation will never allow the master to recognize or say to the employee as Frantz anon says "from now on you are free" (Black Skin, White Masks, 220). The case of J. Derick and A. TAzi is only one example among many Anglo-American shootings on Morocco ranging from Morocco, Road to Morocco, Casablanca through Babel, Five Fingers to mention but a few.