Is Disney “Anti-Arabs” or are they just Ignorant?

16 Nov

Recent studies have shown Arab advocacy groups fighting against the Disney Company.  This past August a Muslim employee in Disneyland’s Grand California Hotel was sent home from work with no pay because she refused to take off her hijab while working as a hostess in one of the hotel’s restaurants.  Her name was Imane Boudlal.  She filed a complaint against Disney with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, whose job it is to enforce anti-discrimination laws in the workplace.  Now, is Disney serious? This seems a little rash and racist.  According to Disney sources Boudlal’s hijab did not fit the “Disney look”, so she could either take it off, work in the back where no one would see her or go home (1).

Boudal, along with the Council of American-Islamic Relations, Greater Los Angeles Area (CAIR-LA) sent a letter to Disney demanding they edit their “look” to account for religious accommodations, which of course, is in the Constitution! What the hell is wrong with Disney?! They have Arab characters in Aladdin wearing their Hijab’s in the movies but a hostess in their restaurant cant wear one for religious purposes? An advocacy group called UNITE HERE represents thousands of employed individuals in hospitality, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, laundry, and airport industries throughout North America. Its no wonder Arab Americans such as Boudlal join such groups!!

However, Arab advocacy groups such as The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) are protesting Disney for more than just its unfair treatment of its employees and their “look”.  ADC fights Disney because they feel that Disney portrays Arabs in a stereotypical way that reflects negatively on Arab Americans.  In a July 1966 issue of Disney Adventures, Disney’s children’s magazine, the issue had a story claiming how Arabs greeted one another, which many Arab’s were offended due to its false claim.  The issue stated that to “”greet somebody Arab-style” one must “grab a friend and blow in his face at the same time he blows into yours! Just don’t turn your head to avoid your buddy’s breath.  Arabs consider that a major insult!”” (56)  As we can clearly see Disney is presenting Arab’s in a negative light and making inaccurate claims!

What Disney is forgetting, that these advocacy groups have a problem with, is that young children see and read what they put out, so they may develop negative images of Arabs or find them to be very different from them, which can only propel further racist issues! I mean isn’t Disney supposed to be child friendly and support children, OF ALL RACES?!?  Arab children are offended by these statements made by the Disney Company.

Further ADC along with other Arab-Americans had serious complaints about the movie Aladdin when it was first released.  In the introduction to the song, there is a line that says “where they cut off your ears if they don’t like your face”.  It should not be a shock to anyone how racist and stereotyping and just wrong it is to put lyrics like that into a children movie! The last thing ADC wants is to allow Disney to reinforce such negative stereotypes about Arabs that will leave lasting impressions on new generations of impressionable children.  It took six months of protesting, but Disney finally decided to substitute alternative lyrics to the films video release.  In the Video below, you can see what they changed the lyrics too and why (original lyrics written in RED).

According to Albert Mokbiber, President of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, “We’re not looking for people to portray Arabs as angels. We’re just saying lets have a little balance and a little reality.”  This is reasonable, is it not?? The ADC is working still to petition Disney to remove to word “barbaric” from the offensive song that is the introduction to the movie Aladdin. In the video below, we can clearly see Disney does not portray Arabs in the most positive lights.  In fact, could we even say, “barbaric”??

According to Jack Shaheen, professor of mass communications at Southern Illinois University and author of “The TV Arab,” who was involved in the “Aladdin” negotiations, “When imagemakers portray any group, if they were to think of the group as they would their own, that person as they would someone of their own color or heritage, then we would see different, more balanced films”.  Maybe Disney should take a page out of Shaheen’s book!!!

Lumetta, G. (n.d.). Arab-American Activism: ADC Continues Protests Against Disney Stereotyping. Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. Retrieved November 9, 2010, from http://wrmea.com/backissues/1096/9610056a.html

Shelton, L. (2010, August 19). UNITE HERE: Disneyland Employee Sent Home for Wearing Hijab. PR Newswire, p. 2. Retrieved November 9, 2010, from the LexisNexis database

Strauss, B. (1993, July 29). Protesting the Movies. BPI Entertainment News Wire, p. 4. Retrieved November 7, 2010, from the LexisNexis Academic database.

Strauss, B. (1993, July 25). Interest Groups Rally Their Forces; Movie Stereotype Face Vocal Opposition. Chicago Sun Times, p. 3. Retrieved November 6, 2010, from the LexisNexis Academic database.

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One Response to “Is Disney “Anti-Arabs” or are they just Ignorant?”

  1. Sadako December 1, 2010 at 9:57 pm #

    Hey there, just saw you linked to my blog post on Aladdin–thanks!

    Agree that Disney’s pretty embarrassingly Orientalist about other cultures. Aladdin was early 90s and it was still ridiculous how they played up the “weird, exotic” aspects of the Middle East.

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