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  Home > IndexArchives > Contents > Ethnic - February 2002  
 
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This month TV ACRES looks at: 

...The Arabs
 

Oh, I come from a land, 
from a faraway place;
Where the caravan camels roam.
Where they cut off your ear, 
if they don't like your face;
It's barbaric, but hey, it's home.

*Original lyrics from the Disney movie Aladdin before they were changed for video.


Amazingly, the Arab culture is rich and diverse in other parts of the world, but their cultural personas are few and far between in the Anglo-Saxon dominated TV arena. Possible reasons why they don't appear on TV may range from their small population base in the United states (3.5 million) where advertisers don't feel they are enough of a target audience to which to sell products and thus inspire programs with their ethnic identity or because of the Arab's historical animosity with the American Jews who strongly influence the entertainment industry in the United States. ["Men and women of Jewish background enjoy a vastly disproportionate - if not dominate - influence in Hollywood." - Michael Medved's article "Jews Run Hollywood: So What?" in Moment Magazine August, 1996]. 

Over the past 50 years, when the Arabs have been written into TV scripts, they haven't been seen in a favorable light. They are either seen as groups of terrorists, covetous oil sheiks, war mongers or as sly, sneaky, hagglers in market bazaars. Or, as one source cleverly said "Billionaires, Belly Dancers and Bombers." In fact, to my amazement, I only found a handful of TV shows in fifty years that showed an Arab cast as a recurring or regular character on a series.

Many Arab depictions, for example, are seen in children's cartoon series which air repeatedly and help to reinforce the negative stereotypes of Arabs in the media. Such cartoon shows include Richie Rich ("Richie outsmarts an outlandish sheik"); Scooby-Doo ("outwits Uncle Abdullah and his slippery genie"); Porky Pig ("Ali-Baba bound, dumps a black-hearted Arab into a barrel of syrup"); Bugs Bunny ("escapes from being boiled in oil by satisfying the whims of a sheik with an unnamed goat"); and Disney's Aladdin ("The evil manipulating Jafer character is the only character with exaggerated Arab features and Royal Princess Jasmine's attire reflects the  attire of a belly dancer"). And The Three Stooges comedy shorts like Mummy' Dummies, Malice in the Palace, Rumpus in the Harem, and Three Arabian Nuts are constantly running on some cable network in America projecting both a comical and derogatory image of Arabs as nefarious buffoons, and back-stabbing villains.

In many cases to distinguish between good and bad Mideast characters, their facial features will be changed: the hero gets a WASP-looking, small-nose; while the evil character has pronounced hook-nose as seen in Disney's Aladdin or on the perennial TV Christmas animation The Little Drummer Boy

Bottom line: Negative stereotyping distorts the Arab image, as well, any other ethic group (Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Italians, Native Americans, Catholics, Jews, Gays) who are treated in the same fashion. Hollywood needs to balance their portrayal of Arabs on TV by creating more positive roles to reflect the many Arabs who are decent upright citizens. For example, even though Italian characters are allegedly stereotyped as Mobsters (for example, in the popular HBO series THE SOPRANOS) at least the Italian community can point to hundreds of positive portrayals such as Tony Micelli on WHO'S THE BOSS, Ray Barone on EVERYONE LOVES RAYMOND and Joey Tribianni on FRIENDS.

As film critic Jack Shaheen commented "I'm not saying an Arab should never be portrayed as a villain. What I'm saying is that almost all Hollywood depictions of Arabs are bad ones. This is a grave injustice [because] repetitious and negative images of the "reel" Arab literally sustain adverse portraits across generations." Note: The word "Arab" in an American dictionary or thesaurus offers the definitions: "sometimes offensive, urchin, gamin." 

The following is a list of Arab characters seen on TV over the years. It is short but comprehensive. The characters portrayed are either Arabs, descendants of Arabs or derivative of  the Arab Culture. Anyone with additional characters that I have missed should definitely contact me, so I can include those omissions in my database. 

For your edification an "Arab" is defined as a person coming from these regions of the world: Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Iran is not an Arab Country. 
 

AFTER MASH/CBS/1983-84
*(Jamie Farr/costar) Maxwell "Max" Klinger, a Lebanese-American from Toledo, Ohio who moved to River Bend, Missouri after the Korean War to work at General Pershing Veteran's Administration Hospital as an administrative assistant under the supervision of his former Korean War commander, Colonel Sherman Potter, now a civilian doctor/administrator. Klinger lived with his Korean War bride, Soon-Lee (Rosalind Chao). See also M*A*S*H.

ALADDIN/CBS/SYN/1994-95
*(Cartoon Character) Aladdin (voice of Scott Weinger) a young Arab boy who discovers a magic lamp, the Genie that lives within (voice of Dan Castellaneta) and falls in love with Princess Jasmine (voice of Linda Larkin). The cartoon was based on the 1992 Disney animated feature movie Aladdin.  At the conclusion of the Disney movie Aladdin and the King of Thieves (1996), Aladdin is reunited with father Caisim, the King of Thieves. Note: The Aladdin character first appeared in Thousand and One Nights, a series of anonymous stories in Arabic told by Scheherezade to her husband, Schariar, King of Samarkand to delay her execution. Legend says she entertained him with stories for 1,001 nights and thus saved her life. She also created such Arabian characters as Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and Sinbad the Sailor.

BATMAN/ABC/1966-68
**(Victor Buono) King Tut, the alter ego of a Gotham City professor of Egyptology whose love of all things Egyptian went awry when he got hit on the head and assumed the personality of the legendary King Tut. Clad in the royal costume of an Egyptian Pharaoh, he recruited a group of zany criminals to assist him in his nefarious deeds. Battling this "River Nile Nut" was the caped crime fighter, Batman. Inevitably, amidst a foray of fists and punches, "King Tut" was knocked back to reality and his former self, a mild-mannered college professor. King Tut was one of the many recurring bad guys on this fantasy series.

CASABLANCA/NBC/1983
**(Ray Liotta) Sacha, Moroccan bartender working in Casablanca at Rick’s Cafe, a smoky night spot owned by American ex-patriate Rick Blaine. 
CRANE/A+R/1962
**(Laya Raki) Halima, an attractive Moroccan woman who worked for Richard Crane, a cafe owner & part-time smuggler operating along the coast of Morocco. Also featured were Gerald Flood as Colonel Mahmoud, a local cop.

THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW /ABC/CBS/1953-65/ABC/1970-71
*(Danny Thomas) Danny Williams, a Lebanese-American nightclub entertainer living in New York City with his wife Margaret (Jean Hagen) and his children Rusty (Rusty Hamer) and Terry (Sherry Jackson/Penney Parker). When Danny's first wife died, he married Kathleen Daly, a hot-tempered Irish lass. Angela Cartwright starred as her daughter Linda, from a former marriage. Veteran character actor Hans Conried frequently appeared as Uncle Tonoose, the loud-mouthed patriarch of the family, who favored the ways of the old country. His Lebanese nickname was "Hashush-al-Kabaar" meaning "The Man who made a monkey out of a camel".

 I DREAM OF JEANNIE/NBC/1965-70
*(Barbara Eden/costar) Jeannie, a beautiful blonde Genie imprisoned in a bottle 2000 years ago who was released from captivity by an astronaut who found her bottle on the beach of a tropic island. Falling instantly in love with her new master, Jeannie followed him back to Cocoa Beach, Florida. The two happily married on the December 2, 1969 episode. Jeannie was born in Mesopotamia in the year 64 B.C.
LIGHTNING FORCE/SYN/1991-92
*(Marc Gomes/costar) Colonel Zaid Abdul Rahmad (a.k.a. Zeke), an Egyptian language specialist, negotiator and cook assigned to an elite force called Lightning Force. He once infiltrated the Israeli Masad and absconded with secret documents. His father, Mamud Abdul Rahmad, is an Egyptian movie star.
M*A*S*H*/CBS/1972-83
**(Jamie Farr) Corporal Maxwell "Max" Klinger, a Lebanese-American from Toledo, Ohio who was stationed overseas in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War (M*A*S*H unit #4077). His total dislike for war drove him to wear a dress with hopes of being transferred stateside on grounds of mental deficiency. His efforts were in vein, however. Ironically, at the conclusion of the war, he fell in love with a Korean farm girl and remained, for a time, in Korea to help search for her family. Finally, they relocated to River Bend, Missouri. See AFTERMASH/CBS/1983-85.
MARCO POLO/NBC/1982 (Miniseries)
**(Leonard Nimoy) Achmet, Persian man who interacted with thirteenth-century Venetian traveler Marco Polo in this ten-hour miniseries.
MUMMIES ALIVE!/SYN/1997
*(Cartoon Characters) A group of Egyptian mummies from 1525 B.C. come back to life in modern-day San Francisco to protect a 12-year-old boy named Presley Carnovan, who possesses the reincarnated soul of Pharaoh's son, Prince Rapses. The four Mummies have the ability to transform into armor and get special powers when they shout "With the Strength of Ra!" Characters and actor voices included Ja-kal, a skilled hunter, is the leader of the mummy guardians; Graeme Kingston as the huge, tough guy mummy Armon, who is constantly eating (his right arm is an artificial limb made of gold); Scott McNeil as Rath,the smart, cool-headed mummy who hates violence; Summer Cree as Nefer-Tina, the only female mummy in the group; Scott McNeil as Set; and Pauline Newstone as Heka; 
SECRETS OF ISIS/CBS/1975
*(JoAnna Cameron) Andrea Thomas, a high school science teacher imbued with the powers of the ancient Egyptian Goddess, Isis when she discovered a 3000 year old amulet during an archeological dig in Egypt. When she willed it, she could transform her mortal body into an indestructible super heroine with the help of an enchanted amulet and the incantation "O Mighty Isis!"
STARGATE: SG-1/SHO/SYN/1997+
*(Peter William) Apophis, leader of the Goa'uld, an alien race who visited earth thousands of years ago and established a colony in Egypt. Their intervention into customs and architecture formed the basis of the ancient Egyptian world. The Goa'uld still bear the distinct stamp of Egyptian culture as they travel across the galaxy conquering worlds via a portal device known as The Stargate.
YOU WISH/ABC/1997-98
*(John Ales) Genie, a 2000-year-old hyper genie who becomes the master of a 20th century divorced mother of two children when she frees him from a purple Persian throw rug. Other cast include Jerry Van Dyke as Grandpa Genie; and John Rhys-Davies as Mustapha.
 
 *   - Indicates the person was the star or co-star 
**
  -  Indicates a regular or a recurring actor 

Who are some well-known Arab-Americans? 

Christa McAuliffe, the teacher/astronaut who died aboard the space shuttle Challenger; Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal; Heisman Trophy winner and NFL quarterback Doug Flutie; creators of radio's American Top 40 Casey Kasem and Don Bustany; Mothers Against Drunk Driving founder Candy Lightner; Jacques Nasser, president and chief executive officer of Ford Motor Co., Helen Thomas, former dean of the White House press corps; and TV sitcom stars Vic Tayback from ALICE; Jamie Farr from M*A*S*H and Danny Thomas from MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY. 



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