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.

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