Sexy Arabs Exposed!

Muslimah Media Watch thanks Safiya for the tip!

The U.K.’s Channel 4 is airing a film festival this week, titled: “Unveiled: Love and Sex in the Arab World.” (sigh) Nice title. Very original.

So we’re guessing that the aim is…to show that Arabs love and have sex? If that is the aim, then it’s not a bad one: love can be a very powerful subject. Movies made sensitively can humanize their subjects by showing the viewer that “these people” love, too.

Sex, however, is trickier. When viewers of one culture view subjects of another culture (especially women) having sex, it usually results in fetishes rather than compassion and understanding. And, looking at Channel 4’s website for the film fest, that’s exactly where the programming is headed. The major problem with Channel 4’s film fest is that its attempt to showcase love and sexuality is skewed towards the seedy version of Orientalist sexuality, and there is a question whether love enters into the picture at all.

The programming will kick off with Un Homme Perdu, which is about a Lebanese man who can’t remember the last 17 years of his life until he meets a French photographer who helps him search for memories from his past. Looking at the cover for the movie and some of the stills from Channel 4’s picture galley (pictured here), it looks like a very sexy past.

On Christmas day, Channel 4 will air Satin Rouge, which follows a Tunisian woman as she is drawn into the nightlife at a local nightclub, which she eventually presides over as the best belly dancer the club has ever seen. Featuring plenty of sexy belly dancing costumes (a still from the movie pictured here), this woman’s journey is about discovering her sensuality. But are white, non-Muslim viewers going to see it that way? Or will it be just another Middle Eastern performing an erotic belly dance?

The best of the movies featured looks to be El Banate Dol and Viva Algeria: the former is an actual documentary about girls who live on Cairo’s streets; the latter is about a mother, daughter, and sex worker who carve out their existence amid the backdrop of a conflicted Algiers. These are the movies that can extract consideration and empathy from those who view Muslims or Middle Easterners or Arabs as evil monolithic entities, not movies about nightclubs and belly dancers.

These films are all recent (2002 or later) and they are all directed by Arabs. So there is great potential here. I was disappointed that the films covered only North Africa and Lebanon: the Arabian Peninsula loves, too. But because the film fest showcases torrid affairs and salacious sexual encounters (one of the movies, What A Wonderful World, features a hit man who makes booty calls to a woman after every hit. That has “romance” written all over it, yeah?), non-Arab viewers are likely to miss the idea that Arabs love and make love just like non-Arabs. Unless Channel 4’s aim was really just to play up Orientalist harem fetishes. In that case, Channel 4 deserves credit for a job well done.

Friday Links
One-Dimensional Hijab Stories
Syrian Series “Bab Al Hara” and the Need to Combat Traditional Images of Women
Review – Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s Refusing the Veil
  • Melinda

    Of these films I’ve seen “Viva Algeria.” I wasn’t terribly impressed by it. My parents watched it after me, and they liked it.

  • nadia n

    Most Arabic films I hear about, period, are from North Africa or Palestine. Lebanon has had a boom of filmmaking lately, but I don’t know if I could name any filmmakers from the gulf.I saw Satin Rouge, it was meh. I haven’t seen Un Homme Perdu, from what I’ve read it’s about the club scene around Amman, Beirut, etcetc. I saw the director Danielle Arbid’s first one In the Battlefields which was semiautobiographical, and not just sexy but touched on racism, domestic violence and a lot of touchy subjects that were, I think, a metaphor for the civil war in which the film was set. While I’m not in love with these films, I don’t think either portray arabs as “evil monolithic entities” nor are they seeking to extract sympathy or really to give a flying crap what people in the West will think of them if they see their movie. They’re just stories, good ones will have people that are neither completely good or bad and these are real aspects of the Middle East, just as real as the 28726 weddings we see in movies and tv shows.Actually Satin Rouge has a minor love/relationship subplot but it’s more about the Mom finding herself; as for leaving the love out of the love and sex, when has marketing not done this for anyone?

  • Zeynab

    Nadia, my problem is that a British channel is showing these movies under a theme of understanding Arab love & sexuality. If these movies were shown to a bunch of Middle Easterners, I wouldn’t really care, because these viewers would be more likely to see the characters as multidimensional people instead of just sexy, sexy Arabs having sexy, sexy sex.

  • orodemniades

    Hokay, I saw Satin Rouge a few months ago because as a belly dancer myself, I’m fascinated to see how it’s portrayed on film (mostly I’ve been extremely unimpressed, with the exception of musical fantasy-ish documentary Latcho Drom). The dancing was very natural, and although at times it made me feel a little antsy due to the exploration of the main character’s sexuality (or, rather, the display of the discovery of her sexual self) it was, to these Western eyes at least, a film about the main character’s desires and how they go horribly, horribly wrong. At the end I was literally yelling at my tv, wanting one character to run, run as fast as they possibly could from the situation, which was an absolute nightmare. I’ve not seen Un Homme Perdu either, but Nadia-N hits all the right notes for me with her comment on how the portrayal of Arabs is of regular people rather than the Orientalist pov.As for Channel 4, well, it’s more or less known for being shocking and titillating with seeds of truth scattered here and there, but sometimes very hard to find. If I were back in the UK I’d probably tune in for the movies, but skip the sex doc.

  • Heather

    I agree with Nadia too. And I think it’s easy to get pulled into feeling like arabs/muslims are “never acurately portrayed”, when in truth there is no universal way to acurately portray any such large body of persons. Two of the movies you mentioned, “Satin Rouge” and “Viva Algeria” were both shown in my araic class a couple of years back. The majority of students were non-muslim and they generally thought that they were at least interesting with decent character development. I watched them both and certainly didn’t think that they were just about “sex.” In fact, I thought they were quite intriguing.And of course I’m sad that the gulf countries couldn’t be represented more, but I think it’s more of a problem of both finding quality movies from those regions that would translate/have been translated at all.

  • fatima

    i think this is just another way for people to view arab muslims and muslims in general out to have good times.i saw a video on youtube in spansih with a niqabi woman with no clohtes on but a niqab and soem sherr stuff on her body,clearly a attempt NOT to show that arab muslims or muslims in general are loving and free,it was more of a dirty scheme to make men around the world see it as some kind of lust full bondage,now we have men who have been raping woman who only are vieled with a head scarf as one of their secret sexual fantasies,and my self a vieled woman has seen how men dont respect anymore the vieled lady thingking,they can just walk up to us and were gonna date them or have a night out.

    well good for these digusting people who wish too deviate from the truth and create this intergration slowly slowly of arab muslim porn ,so we arnt safe from the fitna anymore……think people.