In the middle of the turbulence and suffering brought on by the Islamic Republic of Iran and other Muslim governments, artists are flourishing. Perhaps the political turbulence gives them the passion to tell stories that give hope and reveal beauty in dark places. Perhaps it is the challenge of having so few resources for moviemaking, or so few opportunities to speak out about their lives to the rest of the world. In "the land of the free," movies are as expendable as popcorn. In the Middle East, visionaries and artists are turning to filmmaking as a lifeline, a megaphone with which to call upon the rest of the world.

American audiences are a hard sell for such pictures. This is partly because the U.S. studios want to earn easy money off their own products, so they saturate the market with their mostly mediocre work, keeping foreign films to limited engagements in out of the way art-house theatres. But it is also due to the flawed impressions most Americans have about the region. After all, movies have taught us that Arabs are just bomb-toting terrorists bent on our destruction.

There is so much more to the story.

The Middle East According to American Movies

As I think back and count Middle Eastern characters I have seen on the big screen, I am troubled to realize how many were portrayed as psychopathic villains. In Rambo-genre films I saw as a teenager, the only difference between Nazi soldiers, Vietnamese soldiers, and Arab warriors on a jihad was the accent. Later, American action films like True Lies and Executive Decision gave us villains that were more than action figures; they had personalities and political agendas. We were being conditioned—foreigners are dangerous, violent, and evil. It's what we've been trained to ...

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