Observe the changing tides of politics and beliefs in the lens of cinema
August 15, 2019 11:05 AM Subscribe
Born in 1952, Abou Joudé grew up at a time when Lebanon overflowed with cinemas. He says there were over 50 cinemas in Beirut alone. Joudé would attend the movies three to four times a week, watching everything from Aladdin to Kubrick. He loved the splashy, thrilling posters, depicting electrifying romps and grandiose fantasies, but over time he noticed that certain images would repeat again and again. “I discovered that those films, or the posters of those films about Arabs, continued the imagined picture of what was thought about Arabs in the 18th and 19th centuries,” he says. “The desert, the tent, the belly-dancing, the haram, the sultan, the king. Stereotyped images continued through the posters.” The Middle East as Old Hollywood Saw It (Atlas Obscura)
The fantasy they presented was powerful and dangerous, says Omar Thawabeh, the communications officer at Dar el-Nimer, a Beirut arts center that recently hosted an exhibition of Abou Joudé’s posters. “Image as a tool or as a weapon is probably underrated in how powerful it is. I think what the rest of the world thinks of us is majorly based on images,” he explains. “Although we might take some of these posters with a pinch of salt and say, ‘Well, it’s just a film,’ when this becomes one film after another and generations after generations, and the images, the representation doesn’t change, it becomes more problematic.”Atlas Obscura has some gorgeous copies of the posters, and photos of Abboudi Abou Joudé in his shop in Beirut, which has progressed since Farrah Berrou tracked down the shop in 2016 for Bambi Soapbox, because it now has a website (Google auto-translate), which appears to focus on books instead of posters. But there are also plenty of posters, if you wanted to browse remotely. If you want to see the Lebanese (and other Arab) film posters, jump to page 9 and go from there, but there are also western posters with English text mixed in.
The movie posters promote the image of Arabs as “savages, they’re backwards, they live in tents and they ride camels,” Thawabeh says. The implication, he explains, was that while Arab nations were uncivilized, Western countries were advanced: a belief that could justify the invasion and colonization of the Arab world. “We [Westerners] are civilized and we’re powerful, we have armies and developed weapons and we can conquer them, we can use them. So it starts off with dumbing down the Arab world, then it turns into this invitation to abuse the resources of the Arab world and create these power dynamics.”
The posters show how popular culture reflected the politics of the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. Abou Joudé says that prior to World War II most films shown in Beirut came from Egypt or Europe, but post-war, American films took over the market as American power and hegemony grew.
The American films initially showed a fascination and exotification of the Arab World replete with tents, belly dancers, deserts, and rich sultans. But after the 1967 Six-Day War between Israel and Egypt, Jordan and Syria, Joudé says images of Arabs began to shift, and he noticed that instead of being portrayed as heroes, they became terrorists. “The [Arab] characters became very evil or sick after the 1967 war,” he says. “It began at that time and has grown since then, especially after 2011 honestly.”
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