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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

“Arab Women Writers” students present film series

“The field of Arab women writers is a burgeoning field, still quite under-theorized and under-taught, and my hope is that we can contribute to raising its profile,” said Diya Abdo, assistant professor of English. Appropriately, Abdo teaches “Arab Women Writers,” a senior seminar course.

“In the course we have been distinguishing between stereotypes and reality when it comes to Arab women,” said senior Laura Milot.

Senior John Jenkins said that discussion is at the center point of the class.

“So far, most of our class has been looking at colonial and post-colonial feminist theory in Arab countries,” said senior Alex Barnett. “More recently, we have started reading fictional narratives which are awesome.”

The class has organized an Arab Women Film series composed of five films, each followed by student-led discussion of the film and the issues surrounding it.

Senior Bailey Arnold said that in order to prepare for the film series, the students have been engaged in readings on the Arab world and Western perceptions of the Arab world.

“The film series addresses different subject matter that relates to Arab women writers and the lives of Arab women in general,” said Arnold.

The first of the films, “Hollywood Harems,” a 1999 24-minute Tanya Kamal-Eldin production, was shown Feb. 17 from 6:30-7:30 in the Bryan Jr. auditorium.

The film was presented by seniors Jerry Hrechka, Juliana Janisch, Laura Milot, and Sheena Morning, who moderated discussion and asked the audience questions.

“It is about the power of media, specifically, Hollywood,” said Milot. “The entertainment industry not only has the ability to manipulate western culture, but also has the ability to influence how western culture perceives others around the world.”

The film juxtaposes clips from Hollywood films about a fantasized, exotic east throughout the decades (from the 1920’s until the 1980’s).

Hollywood’s portrayal of the exotic East fuses together elements of Arab, Persian, Chinese and Indian culture and does not distinguish between them. The East is represented as one united entity, free from differences.

The film argues that in creating a false cultural plurality, these popular films have created and then stimulated offensive stereotypes about the East by simultaneously reinforcing ideas of ultimate Western supremacy.

The film referenced Hollywood movies, especially those that feature harems, such as “Cleopatra” (1963), “Son of Sinbad” (1955), “Arabian Nights” (1942) and “Son of the Sheik” (1926).

According to the film, in the early 1920’s “nudity, suggestive dances and costumes were prohibited in films,” but in Eastern settings filmmakers were able to break these rules.

Often in these films Western men were permitted into the sacred walls of the harem and “could indulge through the intruder’s gaze” in bathing scenes, orgies, and “dancing girls which were fixed icons” who performed eroticized dances.

“In the early 1900s, female characters were often portrayed as prude and proper unless they were Eastern, in which case they primarily played the role of “the seductress,” said Milot.

During the discussion, Hrechka asked the group whether it is the ethical responsibility of the film maker to portray these cultures “in a positive light.”

“No, not necessarily positive,” said sophomore JoJo Gao, “but it is their ethical responsibility to portray them realistically.”

Abdo said that through the course and the film series she hopes to “dispel stereotypes, create room for discussion and interrogation about issues of representation, and contribute to and extend the discussion about Arab/Muslim women’s lives and productions . as well as to arrive at a more informed, less Euro-centric and less stereotypical understanding of Arab and Muslim women.”

Abdo said that these two objectives can be accomplished by “contextualizing the various texts we are reading, delineating the variances among Arab women from different countries, regions, social classes, and religious backgrounds, and exploring the ways they inhabit differing historical, cultural, social, political, and economic contexts.”

Senior Dana Kilgoe, who was present at the film, said that the course has encouraged her to challenge her own opinions by getting educated.

“This class takes us deeper into the world of the Arab women that includes her language, fears and her ability to survive over some insurmountable odds and circumstances,” said Kilgoe. “Never have I had the opportunity to experience and view the world from this angle. I can go on and on. But, you will just have to come and see for yourself.”

To “see for yourself” read the Buzz for announcements on the upcoming films: “Covered: The Hejab in Cairo, Egypt”-March 4, “Algeria: Women At War”-March 18, “The Veiled Hope:

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