Offensive, inaccurate, demonizing depictions of Arabs in American media is one of the most frequently lamented, painful aspects of the Arab American experience. Most have only complained in helpless frustration.

But for the past 30 years, one green-eyed, soft-spoken, animated man from a polluted, working-class Pittsburgh-area steel town, has made it his life’s work to expose and battle the constant perpetuation of debilitating stereotypes and imagery in television and film.

Jack Shaheen has published three books on the subject, and is now traveling the country and the world for screenings of the documentary film based on his book “Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People.”

Born in Clairton, Pennsylvania to Lebanese immigrants, Shaheen was the first in the small Arab American community that he grew up in to go to college. He would eventually become a professor of media studies at Southern Illinois University, establishing himself as a formidable media critic publishing works on the social significance of public broadcasting and on nuclear war films.

But the academic support that he had earned would fade as soon as he turned his attention to unfair media portrayals of Arabs.

His first article on the topic remained unpublished for three years. One publication described it as “too well written,” to be printed, claiming that other ethnic groups would then want to publish similar essays that surely would not be as good.

“It was because of their prejudices. It had nothing to do with the quality of the writing,” said Shaheen bitterly.

Despite being stigmatized, his work being labeled “Arab propaganda,” Shaheen chose to expand his research and write a book, “The TV Arab,” which would also wait years for publication.


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