Hollywood Vilifies Muslims and Arabs Yet Again

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I seriously just wanted to come home today and escape from all the politics and racism in  the world.  Just for two hours.  Is that too much to ask for?

As I drove home from college, I decided to stop by at the video store — a place I haven’t been to in forever — and I browsed around for something to rent or buy.  Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t find anything that appealed to me, so I went home.  Or, at least, I tried to go home.  I ended up getting stuck in massive rush hour traffic.  I was literally 5 minutes away from my house, but I couldn’t get there because there was only one road open!  So it ended up taking me about 45 minutes to get home, and I’m not exaggerating!

Anyway, I wound up seeing “Taken” tonight because I heard one of my favorite filmmakers, Luc Besson, produced and wrote it.  I haven’t seen a Luc Besson film in the longest time and that’s because he rarely directs movies now.  When I was in high school, I was obsessed with his filmmaking style.  I absolutely Loved his visuals, they were really in-your-face and profound.  I was obsessed with “The Fifth Element,” “La Femme Nikita,” “Leon, the Professional,” and “The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc.”  None of these films are in my top ten anymore, but at the time, I remember being so inspired by his work that I found myself emulating his style in my own short films.  I was recently showing some of my work to one of my best friends, and I was pointing certain shots out and saying, “Oh, that shot was inspired by Luc Besson!” or “That’s a Luc Besson jump cut!”

So yeah, why not check out what ol’ Luc Besson is up to these days, right?  “Taken” is pretty much about a retired U.S. government special forces operative (played by Liam Neeson) who tries to reestablish his bond with his 17-year-old daughter.  Then one day, she wants to go on a trip to Paris with her best friend, but her father doesn’t approve.  “It’s a dangerous world out there” he basically says.  Of course, she doesn’t listen to him and neither does his ex-wife.  “I’m going to be fine” the daughter says; “she’s 17-years-old, give her some space!” the ex-wife says.  Finally, he gives in and allows his daugther to travel overseas.  And surprise, surprise, she ends up getting kidnapped!  This is what happens, of course, when women don’t listen to men, right?  They get kidnapped by women-trafficking Albanians when they go to France.  It’s priceless when our fearless protagonist informs his ex-wife about their daughter; she has the “oh-my-god-I’m-such-a-stupid-woman-who-should-have-listened-to-my-ex-husband” face.

At this point in the film, Liam Neeson immediately transforms into an indestructible killing machine.  Cracking necks, twisting arms, chopping throats, breaking knees, knifing stomachs, shooting people in the head, parrying punches like Neo, and dodging bullets because evil foreign bad guys couldn’t possibly have the kind of shot accuracy that White people have.  Yeah, he pretty much does everything that Jason Bourne and James Bond does.  At first we think the villains are Russians.  Oh great, I thought, Russians.  Like we haven’t seen that before.  Then it turns out to be Albanians.  Oh wonderful, even better since most Albanians are Muslim.  Now this really ticked me off because my brother has a lot of Albanian friends and my cousin is getting married to an Albanian, insha’Allah.  And now I see them depicted as women-trafficking criminals?  There’s no mentioning of Islam, but there are plenty of close-ups on their “crescent moon and star” tattoos.  Hmm, I wonder what that means?

The same stereotypical images are cultivated again:  “White guy, who is also the protector-of-females, against dark-skinned people, who also happen to oppress and sell White women.”  It’s just the same old garbage recycled again and again.  How many times have we seen this dance before?  Why are we still funding movies like this?  And the worst part of the film is how it supports and glorifies the Guantanamo Bay torture tactics (pictured above).  The scene is disgustingly ethnocentric as our James-Bond-wannabe protagonist electrocutes the hell out of the Albanian character and talks about how it’s so much easier to torture in France since, as opposed to third-world countries, the power doesn’t go out.  After relentless torture, he gets his answers out of him.  Then he kills him.  Hey, torture works!  Maybe they should keep Guantanamo Bay open after all.  Thanks, Luc!

At the end of the movie, our invincible hero finds that his daughter gets purchased by an (drum roll) Arab!  Of course!  How can you make an action-packed suspense thriller without beating up some A-rabs!  Yes, a final showdown with Arabs.  Wonderful.  I think Luc Besson must have been stuck on an ending until co-writer Robert Mark Kamen came up with the ingenious idea of Arab thugs.  Luc probably got so excited, “Yeah, yeah!  Throw that in there!  People Love that s***!”  I Love the fact that the hardest guy to beat up is the dark-skinned, bearded Arab guy (who happens to have a hairstyle similar to mine, so I’m double-offended!).  It’s kind of like those video games where you reach the final boss of the whole game and he just takes forever to kill!  As they fist-fight with some insane choreography, the Arab — oh snap!! — whips out his curved Arabic blade.  Here we go, clash of civilizations right here!  But then Liam Neeson overpowers with his bare hands and forces the knife back onto him!  Dude, he stabbed the Arab with his own medieval weapon!  And of course Liam Neeson wins because, after all, he’s the main character and he’s Liam Neeson.  No one can kill Liam Nesson.   Unless you’re Darth Maul.  Or Batman.  Or some random Crusader in “Kingdom of Heaven.”  Ok, so he has died in other movies, but we know he wasn’t going to die here because Mr. Luc Besson needs to establish his point:  Good guys always prevail over Muslim and Arab scum, women should never divorce their secret government operative husbands even if they’re not around most of the time, and no one should travel overseas because the United States is the best and safest country in the whole wide world.  Not even Luc Besson, even though he’s French.

Oh I should also point out that the film likes to toss in some random Black guys for Liam Neeson to beat up.  They literally come out of nowhere!  It’s like you see him fighting Albanians, but then, whoa! Where’d that Black guy come from?!  Before you can think more about it, he gets thrown off a building or smashed through a window.  “Yes, we need some Black people in this movie,” Luc must have thought.  “Because we want Black people to watch this movie.”  Yeah, ok.  *sigh*  I just don’t get it.  I was so depressed and angry after watching this movie that I couldn’t help but feel like my efforts aren’t worth anything.  I felt like my short films, research projects, activist work, and critiques are insignificant because no matter what I do, Hollywood always has their monster-budget that will produce anything that rakes in the dough.  I felt like writing a letter to Luc Besson, but what good will that do, right?  He won’t care if he loses a fan.  Who am I?  No one.  Just some random Muslim guy whose opinion doesn’t matter.

I really just wanted to escape tonight.  I wanted to get things off my mind and just be entertained.  Once in a while, it’s nice to watch a film that isn’t so absorbing.  It’s just really discouraging how ethnocentric and racist a film can be.  All one needs to do is look at the imagery:  White man in a foreign country that is infected by other foreign people:  Albanians and Arabs.  Seriously, can I have a moment to smile?  I don’t think many people understand what it feels like to feel so uncomfortable in a movie theater when the film itself vilifies your people.  I don’t think many in the White non-Muslim community get that.

But what does Hollywood care about all of this?  Absolutely nothing.  They’re swimming in money.  They could care less about who they offend.  I’m so sick and tired of it all.

So utterly sick and tired of the unapologetic arrogance, ethnocentrism, racism, and Islamophobia…

How to Save a Life

So this got me a little teary-eyed. As many of you know, I am a huge “Star Wars” fan, and even plan on making another “Star Wars” fan film after I complete three original films. My little cousins inspired this decision of mine since they were so captivated by some of my earlier “Star Wars” fan films. Before leaving, one of my cousins said to me, “when are you going to make another ‘Star Wars’ movie?” The magic and excitement in his eyes were impossible to ignore. It reminded me how I would Love to make a few films especially for children. Like I said, I have three films — which are all original — that I want to complete first, and then for fun, I want to just make another “Star Wars” fan film especially for my cousin. I want to make it soon too because he could grow out of it when he hits his teens (I know I didn’t grow out of it, lol, but it varies from person to person).

Anyway, I found this video on YouTube while I was searching for the song, “How to Save a Life,” and what do you know, I happened to find one with “Star Wars” footage. I think this video is brilliantly edited. The song and lyrics fit the visuals perfectly. It shows the tragedy of a really wonderful friendship between Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen). “Star Wars” is one of those rare films/stories where I can actually get emotionally involved with the characters, but I can also relate it to my own life. I’m sure a lot of us have lost friends — either because of heartbreak, arguments, death, or even distance.

If you haven’t seen the “Star Wars” films (particularly Episodes 1-3), this video pretty much tells the whole story in visuals. It shows Anakin Skywalker as an innocent 10 year-old (as seen in Episode 1) and then how he matures into a Jedi Knight (as seen in Episode 2), and finally, falls to the Dark Side and becomes Darth Vader (as seen in Episode 3).

Since I am making a film right now about friendship (more details on that soon! I’m almost wrapped up with it!), I know there are things in life that separate us from other people. Sometimes, we have to separate from these people and we suffer from a lot of pain. I believe that friendship is strong enough to best the storms and overcome the differences. I know there have been times when I asked myself, “where did I go wrong?” How can such a beautiful friendship fall to darkness? You have all these flashbacks and still can’t believe what happened.  Anakin was suffering from inner conflict and pain, but he didn’t tell Obi-Wan about it.  He didn’t open himself up to his friend, and instead, darkness overwhelmed him and clouded his mind.  It made him think that Obi-Wan was his enemy.  When we have arguments with our friends, we sometimes think that they are the problem.  We think that we are always right, and they are wrong.

I want to be there for my friends. Without our friends, we would not be the same person that we are today. I don’t like being separated. I want them all to know that I Love them and if they ever want to talk to me about anything or need anything, I am always here. If you are lost, tell me, and we can be lost together. We can find our way together. We can stay up all night and work things out. Encouragement and emotional support is so important and it means so much to people. Arguments and differences are inevitable, but that doesn’t mean there is no more Love. There is always Love. We just have to remember that.

~Broken Mystic~

“Star Wars: The Clone Wars” is for the Fans!

SPOILER ALERT! Do not read this entry if you haven’t seen the film yet. If you don’t plan on seeing the movie for some odd reason (haha) then feel free to read on!

As the title of this entry says, the new computer-animated “Star Wars” film is definitely for the fans, but I want to share my thoughts in a way that other people can learn to appreciate it as well. After 2005′s “Revenge of the Sith,” George Lucas said there would be no more “Star Wars” films, and only up until recently, he announced that he realized he had more stories to tell. He had to add, however, that there would be no more live-action “Star Wars” films, but there would be a computer animated television show. From what I understand, there will also be a live-action television show (What I would give to direct an episode!) In any case, if it’s “Star Wars,” you can always count on me being there!

“The Clone Wars” takes place between “Attack of the Clones” (Episodes 2) and “Revenge of the Sith” (Episode 3), and explores Anakin Skywalker’s prime years with his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi. Jabba the Hutt’s son is kidnapped by Count Dooku and the separatist forces, and in order to gain the support of the Hutts in the Clone Wars, the Republic needs to rescue Jabba’s son. But while the Jedi are sent on the rescue mission, Count Dooku and the separatists seek to frame the Jedi of kidnapping Jabba’s son. This only results in Jabba becoming very hostile towards the Republic and the Jedi.

The film is a real treat to fans because in “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith,” we hear Anakin and Obi-Wan talking about their other adventures and missions together, and while we see nice moments of them bonding and fighting side-by-side, we can’t help but wonder about those other stories. It’s obvious that Lucas was intending to fill in those gaps through the “Star Wars” Expanded Universe, i.e. novels, comic books, video games, television shows, and now, in a computer-animated film. Two films about Obi-Wan and Anakin doesn’t give us nearly enough time to cover their Master and Apprentice roles, respectively. “Attack of the Clones,” for example, needed to develop Anakin and Padme’s romantic relationship, while “Revenge of the Sith” needed to show his shift to the dark side and transformation into Darth Vader. The new computer-animated feature shows us more of Anakin’s Jedi side, or lighter side, which is very essential to the Star Wars chronology.

“The Clone Wars” is a family-friendly film that not only shows us more of Anakin, but it also introduces us to new characters, particularly a new female Jedi character named Ahsoka Tano (pictured above on left). She is assigned to be trained by Anakin Skywalker, and at first, Anakin doesn’t sit very well with it, but then he realizes that Ahsoka is a mirror to his own experiences as an apprentice. In the films, we have seen Anakin express his frustration under the wing of Obi-Wan, so a character like Ahsoka deepens his character and shows how he can relate to her. After a spectacular battle scene at the Battle at Christophsis, Anakin says to Ahsoka: “You’re reckeless, little one. You never would have made it as Obi-Wan’s Padawan, but you might make it as mine.” This is an encouraging moment for both of them because Anakin has been labeled “reckless” many times by other Jedi Masters, so he knows what it feels like.

“Star Wars” fans will also see how Anakin Skywalker is truly the “best star pilot in the galaxy” as Obi-Wan says in Episode Four. I also liked how Ahsoka battled her way through enemies, especially at the end. As I wrote in my entries on Muslim women in comic books, it’s better for characters to solve things on their own rather than being rescued or dues ex machina. I personally see the character of Ahsoka as a way to invite more young females to the “Star Wars” universe. No doubt, there are a lot of female “Star Wars” fans, thanks to strong and three-dimensional female characters like Mara Jade, Princess Leia, Queen Padme Amidala (who has a nice cameo in “The Clone Wars”), and Jaina Solo (pictured right), but “Star Wars” mostly gets associated with male teenagers. The beauty of the “Star Wars” universe is that it’s so diverse and there are literally thousands of different stories to tell. I think if more well-represented female characters took center stage in the upcoming live-action television show, it will appeal more to the female audience. I emphasize on “well-represented” because simply having female characters doesn’t mean you will attract a female fan base. The characters have to be realistic and three-dimensional. It would be amazing to finally see Mara Jade in a television show because according to many Star Wars polls, she is the most popular character in the “Star Wars” universe who does not appear in the films. And in my opinion, Mara Jade and Jaina Solo, are some of the best examples of non-exploited fictional female characters, right up there with “X-Men’s” Jubilee and Trinity from “The Matrix”.

And if we see more of Ahsoka Tano, she will quickly become one of my favorites because what’s interesting about her is that she is not just female, but she is also of the Togruta species. There was part in “The Clone Wars” that I really liked when one of the characters looked at Ahsoka and called her a “slave dancer” since Jabba the Hutt has slave dancers who are Twi’leks, a similar-looking species to Togrutas. Ahsoka gets offended by this slur in the movie, and it’s interesting because Togrutas and Twi’leks are not the same, and not all Twi’leks are slave dancers. This is an aspect of “Star Wars” that I have always appreciated: Diversity. One of the most memorable scenes in the history of film was in the very first “Star Wars” film (“A New Hope”) in 1977, where Luke Skywalker enters a cantina filled with a large variety of creatures, and they were all enjoying drinks, eating, conversing, and playing music. In one of the “Star Wars” novels, the Jedi Code states that the Jedi must respect all forms of life. When I was a teenager, and being a minority myself, that really meant a lot to me when I read that. It allowed me to apply those teachings to the real world and learn how to accept everyone for who they are, regardless of their skin color, ethnicity, and religious background. It also introduced me to showing respect and Love to animals and flowers and insects. Even today, I don’t like killing insects and just let them out of the house or classroom whenever I see them. Anyway, when Ahsoka is misjudged because of her appearance, I couldn’t help but think how ignorant people group Arabs, Iranians, South Asians, and Muslims all one category. Like Twi’leks and Togratus, Arabs and South Asians are not the same!

Speaking of the Middle-East, I must say that “The Clone Wars” has a very Middle-Eastern quality to it, especially in the music which features some nice ethnic female vocals! After all, much of the film takes place on the desert planet of Tatooine (the birthplace of Anakin Skywalker). I caught some interesting political and anti-war messages, including one comical moment with Obi-Wan Kenobi. Lucas emphasizes a lot on negotiations and diplomacy (as he did in “Revenge of the Sith” which has some very obvious anti-Bush messages), and it makes me only anticipate his upcoming art films even more (Lucas has announced that he wants to make more personal and arthouse films like his brilliant first film “THX 1138″).

Watching a new “Star Wars” film was a really special moment for me (even if it’s “just a computer-animated” film). I went with my friends, who all dressed up in “Star Wars” costumes with me during the opening nights of Episode 1 (1999), Episode 2 (2002), and Episode 3 (2005), and it felt like I was going back in time. The fact that this film takes place between Episode 2 and 3 meant that it took my friends and I back to the year 2002. I remember that was a very important and special year for me. I was not only hyped about the new “Star Wars” movie coming out, but I was also going through my own spiritual development. I was learning more about Islam and Sufism, and I started to look at the world much differently than before, and for the better. And by the time Episode 2 was released, I didn’t see “Star Wars” as just a spectacle of visual effects and amazing characters, I also saw it as a deeply spiritual and mystical story. Anyone who knows me knows that 2002 was a turning point in my life. A year that I will never forget. So when I saw “The Clone Wars” it reminded me of those moments. It reminded me that “Star Wars” has a special place in my heart too, and always will.

One quick final note on critics: I cannot believe Roger Ebert gave this film a star and a half. He lists “Star Wars” in his “Great Films” list and has written positive reviews for all the films, except for “Attack of the Clones” and now “The Clone Wars.” What critics don’t understand is that Lucas is all about visual storytelling, and many of them don’t appreciate the vast universe he has created with his gifted imagination. “The Clone Wars,” just like all the other “Star Wars” films, is essential to the “Star Wars” saga. It’s all part of a bigger picture, and so, to judge the film on it’s own is to misunderstand what the “Star Wars” universe is all about. Episodes 1 to 6 are ultimately about the tragedy and redemption of Anakin Skywalker, a character who is incredibly gifted with the Force, but then gets tempted by the Dark Side when he is tormented by nightmares of his wife, Padme, dying. A Sith Lord tells him that the only way to save his wife is through using the Dark Side of the Force, but Anakin gets consumed by it and falls too deep. He transforms into an entirely different being and becomes the most destructive force in the galaxy. We don’t believe there is any good left in him until his son, Luke, comes along. It’s really a beautiful story with so many important messages, especially for young people, and it’s a shame that critics don’t see how “The Clone Wars” fills in gaps of Anakin’s prime years. We need to see more of Anakin as a Jedi, otherwise the epic saga of “Star Wars” cannot be complete.

Thanks for reading, and may the Force be with you!

~ Broken Mystic ~

The Perfect Father’s Day Movie

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WARNING: If you have not seen “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of The Crystal Skull” and you don’t want the movie ruined for you, then stop reading now! Spoilers up ahead!

As you can tell from the release date on the poster above, this movie came out almost a month ago. The word “fanatic” doesn’t even begin to describe how crazy I was about the Star Wars saga (yes, all of them, including the prequels! I’m a loyal fan, lol), but being a Star Wars aficionado/nut/geek/nerd subsequently made me a huge fan of Indiana Jones, since the character is an ingenious creation of George Lucas as well. For those who don’t know, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have been best friends for a very long time. They were both in Hawaii during a vacation and building sand-castles on the beach (as Lucas claims), and Spielberg said to Lucas, “I want to make a James Bond movie.” Lucas replied, “I got someone better than James Bond.” And so, Lucas introduced the character of Indiana Jones, an archaeologist who travels on daring adventures to collect mythical, Biblical, and the most extraordinary of artifacts. Spielberg falls in Love with the character. Production begins. Lucas writes and produces; Spielberg directs. And both of them change the film industry forever. Again.

The first time I saw Indiana Jones was in 1989 when I was five years old. It’s the oldest memory I have of being in a movie theater when I was a child. Fans know I’m talking about the third installment of Indiana Jones (“The Last Crusade”) since it was released that year. The scene I remember the most is that unforgettable tank-chase where Indy (Harrison Ford) is trying to rescue his father (Sean Connery), and I remember being so tense in the seat when the tank drove off the cliff. I remember my father sitting next to me, and I remember how much I was bugging him, lol. He was so absorbed in the movie though and he wouldn’t let my tugging his shirt distract him. He would keep pointing at the screen, saying “look, look.” I never would have imagined that I would become a die-hard fan of this “old” movie series when I reached my teens.

The “Star Wars” films will always be my favorite films of all time (yes, I see all 6 of them as ONE MOVIE, lol), but the Indiana Jones films are also special to me. They may not be as deep as the “Star Wars” films, but they have elements of adventure that make me feel like a kid again. When I told my father about Indiana Jones 4, he couldn’t wait to see it, but he has been so busy with work lately. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to plan things sometimes. I saw the film with a friend of mine when it came out and I was really blown away. There is an addition of a new character (played by Shia Labeouf) who actually turns out to be Indiana Jones’ son! The father-son element was really beautifully done, unlike in other movies like “Superman Returns” or “The Mummy Returns.” Spielberg and Lucas have portrayed father-son relations before in their previous films, especially in Lucas’ “Star Wars.” I just knew that I had to take my dad to see this film with me.

There are some really unexpected surprises in the movie that I didn’t see coming. It’s the kind of surprise that stays with you for a couple of days, and you just think “wow, that was really awesome.” I didn’t know how my dad would react to it though. Most of the critics gave the film a very positive review, but the user reviews on yahoo, for example, were completely different. So many people expressed how disappointed they were by the film, and most of it was due to the ending. Most of my friends and family even found it disappointed. So what was it that upset people so much?

Well, the “crystal skull” is actually a skull that belongs to an alien. Yes, aliens from outer space that, according to the story, came to Earth about 5,000 years ago and taught the Mayans farming, irrigation, technology, etc. When a supporting characters asks about how old the crystal skull is, Indiana Jones says, “5,000 years ago; as old as the Pyramids.” So this suggests that the aliens used to roam all over the Earth, and they are also responsible for building the Pyramids in Ancient Egypt. Anyone who has ever had interest in UFOs or extra-terrestrials most likely recognizes this far-fetched theory of aliens teaching human civilization things that were ahead of their time, and building the Pyramids and other ancient wonders (like Stone Henge). It’s obviously a very fascinating concept and it has been explored before in other films (see Roland Emmerich’s “Stargate”), but many people didn’t believe it fit in an Indiana Jones film. I personally felt it was a really spectacular twist — to see a science-fiction element in a film that you would probably least expect it from. At the end of the film, a flying saucer emerges from beneath an Mayan Temple, and like Indy, I gazed at the visuals in awe. Indy is teary-eyed because the vision is so super-natural, so unusual, and so unexpected — these were the feelings that I believe Spielberg and Lucas were trying to invoke.

My father gave me a nudge yesterday at that scene and I looked over at him to see him smile. I felt like I was five years old again, sitting next to him and watching “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” in 1989. On our way back home, we were talking about how much we liked the movie, and for once, we were away from all the stresses of every day life and discussing the world of fiction and imagination. I looked up at the moon and was reminded of my childhood, when I would go out in the field with my nerdy friends and search the night sky for a UFO.

I can’t believe so many people are disappointed by the new Indiana Jones film. This movie is pure escapism, and in the kind of world we live in today, we all need to take a break, even if it’s just for two hours, and just explore our gift of human imagination.

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