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Airbrushed Sinbad angers critics

Sean Clarke
Wednesday July 23, 2003


Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas
Sinbad: "given no credit for his roots"
 
A US academic has criticised Brad Pitt's new film Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas as "a lost opportunity" to undo negative stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims.

Jack Shaheen, whose book Reel Bad Arabs charts Hollywood's frequently negative portrayal of Arab characters, says the new cartoon version, starring Pitt as the voice of Sinbad, erases all mention of Arabs or Arab culture from the story of the swashbuckling sailor. "This is a tale from the Arabian Nights", he says, "and there was nothing at all to suggest that."

Dr Shaheen says he tried to persuade Jeffrey Katzenberg, the Hollywood producer who with Steven Spielbergs and David Geffen runs the Dreamworks studio, "at least to include some Arab proverbs, or put fezzes on the heads of Sinbad's crew members", but that Katzenberg, although initially enthusiastic, did not follow the suggestions up.

"What this does," says Dr Shaheen, "is enforce the status quo stereotypes. If no attempt is made to challenge the idea that Arab equals evil, then misperceptions continue, particularly in the minds of young people."

Dr Shaheen compared the de-Arabised treatment of the heroic Sinbad as "almost like taking Socrates away from the Greeks. Sinbad is given no credit for his roots."

He said this was bad for the self-image of the many Americans of Arab descent who may be inclined in the current climate to downplay their heritage, as well as moviegoers in the Arab world. "I'm thinking," he said "of the millions of kids who would have embraced this character."

Saying that the decision to remove Arab references was probably motivated by a desire "not to ruffle feathers," Dr Shaheen said he thought the plan may have backfired. The studio had succeeded in making a film - also starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michelle Pfeiffer - which caused no active offence, he said, but "the major criticism of it is that it's a bit bland. It's lost some of its swashbuckling fervour."

Instead, Dr Shaheen recommends a 1979 treatment of the story, The Adventures of Sinbad. Meanwhile the Barbican Centre in London is organising a festival of cinematic treatments of the Arabian Nights.

· Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas opens this Friday. Aladeen on Screen runs at the Barbican until Sunday August 3



Feature
23.07.2003: Sean Clarke: Printing the legend

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