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Representation Of Morocco In Western Cinema

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 3785 words Published: 8th May 2017

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Morocco, its people and culture, has tickled the fancy of westerners long times ago, even before the colonial era. With the western industrial revolution under the advocacy of the imperial inclination, different generations of western writers and film makers have depicted Morocco according to the colonialist requirements and desires of the moment. The Anglo-American literary and mediatic productions as a scion and legatee to the ideology of European colonies in general, turned their gazing gawk on another Arab space of North Africa, mainly Morocco. The original outset of the Anglo-American interest in Morocco can be traced through the successive genres of travel narratives, novels, essays, etc. which took Morocco as their subject of writing and setting of shooting films.

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Going back to some historical reviews of the literature written about the representation of Morocco in the Anglo-American cinema and literature, we find that political, economic, and religious motivations are various pretexts that legitimize the western representation of Moroccan people together with their different cultural aspects. In Belated Travelers, Ali Bahdad has shown that westerners from the early travelers to modern tourism have defined the other including Moroccan people as “savages”, “child like”, “sexually thrilling”, etc. From the early British literature led by Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe(novel& film) to the American writers led by Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky(novel& film), Morocco has been presented in the western imaginary as a land of “jinns”, “dervishes”, “harems”, all darkly promiscuous, sly and inscrutable.

The film in its turn as an extension of narratives has sustained the same discourse of novelists. Most films shot in Morocco present the Moroccan space -desert and kasbah- as a dangerous setting. Through such representations, film makers seem to seek an identity through military, economic and sexual adventures, in which the Moroccan other is continuously cast as inferior and the dark element of the night. Babel, The Sheltering Sky, Legionnaire…remain major films where film makers insist on the alienating forces of the Moroccan cultural threats, in which the pure nobility of the white character must defy. It is rarely that we see some fair characteristics displayed by actors, showing the real image of Moroccans. The favourable setting favoured by film makers is most of the times dirty and shabby districts. The film makers always try to find places even far and may cost them more money just to find a place that can cast Morocco as inferior and uncivilized lacking the basic requirements of life.

Traditional and orientalist writings about Morocco are indistinguishable texts and images affixed and engrafted onto the modish mode of films. From the early talkie, Morocco (1930), the classic Casablanca (1942), road comedies Road to Morocco till Five Fingers (2006), Morocco becomes a confining other space and a penal complex for the recalcitrant Anglo-American heroes. The Muslim and Arab gears of prevalently fixed stereotypes are applied likewise to portray Moroccans and supply the requisite background rapscallions, dickhead and wilful, etc. Such representations persevere to inhabit the imaginations and thoughts of the western audience largely and hardly to be changed. Edward Said has clearly identified the function of Arabs in western cinema:

In the films and television the Arab is associated either with lechery or blood thirsty dishonestly. He appears as an oversexed degenerate capable (…) of cleverly devious intrigues, but essentially sadistic, treacherous, low. Slave trader, camel driver, money changer, colourful scoundrel: these are some traditional Arab roles in the cinema. (Orientalism, 286-87)

Unfortunately, Morocco is geographically situated within two antagonist streams of the west as an Arab and African, “uncivilized” parts of the world. All types of stereotypes given to Arabs, Muslims and indigenous black Africans are also used identically to describe Moroccans. Throughout history of the Anglo-American cinema, Moroccan characters (Arab Africans) have served as the quintessential other in foreign cinema. Moroccans have been consistently represented as inferior to the west orally, intellectually, culturally and politically. In the post 9/11 world and London bombardment, where some Moroccans were found guilty and involved in “terrorist” acts, Moroccans are perceived as antagonistic to western values and a threat to the western stability. In Babel, the film maker clearly shots this belief to show that all Moroccans are against the American presence in Morocco including tourists who are bulleted by a small Moroccan child in the mountains. CNN reports and considers this event a terrorist attack. In this conjunction, Woll and Miller argue that the Arab image has “stalked the silver screen as a metaphor for anti-western values. The movie Arabs, and the television Arabs, have appeared as lustful, criminal, and exotic villains or foils to western heroes and heroines” (Ethnic and Racial Images in American Film and Television, 79).

Across the films under study, Anglo-American cinematic productions seem highly obsessed by stereotypical images of Moroccans. Arabs and Africans in general and Moroccans in particular are cinematically constructed to possess a wide array of loathsome characteristics: they may be backward, wild, cruel, blood thirty, crude, sex-crazed, stupid, dishonest conniving or menacing. Year after year and decade after decade, hundreds of films have flooded the market with a large number of unfavourable Arab and African depictions. In his book, Reel bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People, Jack Shaheen has studied more than one thousand films with major Arab themes and settings, about 40 of which are about Morocco. In his latest book, just after 9/11, Guilty: Hollywood’s Verdict on Arabs after 9/11, Shaheen has studied again more than one hundred films about Arabs picturing them as responsible for what is happening now around the world.

Within these bundles of stereotypes, one can wonder about the reasons behind all these biased descriptions. As a response to such questions, many scholars like Churchill agree that “it seems necessary to alter realities to assume the maintenance of empire” (Fantasies of the Master Race, 38). Churchill goes on saying that “mere conquest is never the course of empire in the achievement of mission can only be attained through the productive utilization of captured ground” (34). Within the same line of thought, Pieterse writes that “the legacy of several hundred years of western expansion and hegemony, manifested in racism and exotism, continues to be recycled in western cultures” (White on Black: Images of Africa and Blacks in Western Popular Culture, 9). Coming to mediatic representations, we find that Brzezinki in Out of Control: Global Turmoil on the Eve of the 21st Century, Naylor in Cultural Diversity in the United States, and Shohat and Stam in Unthinking Eurocentrism all agree that Hollywood cinema promotes Eurocentric representations in order to further an economic and political propaganda. In the present time, which is characterized by terrorism, we see that the movie discourse of the First and the Second World Wars repeats itself and continues to endorse and legitimize the imperial vision of the “white man’s burden”. Buschbaum asserts that “as early as the First World War, many western governments recognized the propaganda potential of film (Left Political Filmmaking in the West: The Interwar Years, 26), in the Second World War, in Ross’s words, “the movie industry and its key personal exempted from military service” (Cinema and Class Conflict, 82). Many scholars like Martin, Hoberman and Shaheen claim that the best movies of the 1930’s promoted colonialism, neo-colonialism and imperialism. These films include Marta Hari, Shangai Express, Tarzan the Ape Man, Flying Down to Rio, etc. During the 1950’s, this imperialistic agenda was furthered in films such as those starring Ronald Reagan- Hong Kong, Tropic Zone, Prisoner of War- all uphold the idea of the United States domination of the third world countries and were often made with the government assistance. Passage to india: british cinema

Although these biased representations within the commercial films have moderated somehow over years, we can say that the visual image of the other Arab and Moroccan in particular is still very poor. Jack Shaheen in his interesting documentary “Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People” (YouToub Video), explores that the 20th century witnessed a large number of films degrading and distorting the image of Arabs including Moroccans. Anglo-American film industry is now theorizing and supporting wars through different scenes that the audience seems to take for granted. Due to this grave impact that such films have on the targeted viewers, Hoberman finds it very necessary to assign these Eurocentric films a new genre called “war-nography” (Vulgar Modernism, 227). Many films unabashedly affirm traditional Anglo-American values and institutions and negate everything anti-western. Among these movies, we can mention Kingdom of Heaven, Black Hawk Down, True Lies, The Mummy, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Stone Merchant, to name but a few. In my thesis, I will study and attempt to prove that the films made about Morocco: Babel, Casablanca, Hideous Kinky, Five Fingers, The Road to Morocco, A Night in Casablanca, Legionnaire, The Man Who Knew too Much, The Sheltering Sky, Our Man in Marrakesh, Man of Violence, Unveiled, and some others fit within the aforementioned category as well.

In Hideous Kinky, despite some short instances where fairness manifests itself, Moroccans are targeted for stereotypical representations within British films. As Varsey succinctly states: “the British influence in general, and its impact in the area of colonial relations in particular, had far reaching implications for Hollywood’s depiction of ethnic difference” (Foreign Parts: Hollywood’s Global Distribution and the Representation of Ethnicity, 699). She concludes that Hollywood’s representations of ethnic and national difference and the movies modulation of these stereotypes were informed not by the personal psychologies of individual production, but by the economic imperatives of global distribution.

Shome in Race and Popular Cinema: the Rhetorical Strategies of Whiteness in the city of Joy, and Young in Fear of the dark: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Cinema have all concluded that racial representations within cinema exemplify how the discursive productions of whiteness is often complicit in the practices of neo-colonialism.

Religious representations are equally as stereotypical as other cultural portrayals within films. According to Newcombe, film images of people associated with religion typically represent “widely shared level(s) of popular cultural expressions of religious attitudes that are safe neutral, and often used because of their immediate visual qualities” (Religion on Television, 33). These religious representations also serve to support neo-colonialism since they “frequently ritualize the values, beliefs,” in Schultze’s words, “and even the sensibilities of a people” (Television Drama as Sacred Text, 5). Moroccan religion or Islam in general has been the victim of representations that pre-date the movies’ dual purposes of religious loathe and economic exploitation. In this conjunction, Rose elaborates:

There are Muslims who are of different origins, while most, like the majority of Palestinians, are Arabs, the followers of Muhammed are found in parts of the world. There is the dominant religion in such non-Arab states as Bosnia, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia. (They and We: Racial and Ethnic Relations in the United States, 58)

However, in the films under study, the Moroccan Muslims are often depicted as dark Arabs and nomadic heathens because black becomes the colour of the devil and demons. While watching the movies, the majority of Moroccans remain cinematically either part of the movie backdrop or totally invisible. In addition to this stereotypical account, another representative feature that portrays Moroccans in the Anglo-American cinema is that they are doubly misrepresented as Arabs and Africans. Hoberman concurs that the misrepresentation of the Other in general has achieved a state that “had surely blistered the paint and the chrome of the American dream machine. Why should anyone want the facts? Shared fantasies are what hold a people together” (Vulgar Modernism, 328).

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Within this religious representation, Moroccans could not escape the Hollywood machine through its films about Morocco, mainly The Five Fingers, which depicted Morocco as a place of terrorist groups and “savage terrorists.” What makes this religious representation very perilous is the audience who take things presented through the motion picture for granted may be throughout their lives. In a study conducted by Schaefer, the American sociologist, about school children who watched D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, he found that “watching the movie made them more favourably inclined towards blacks for five months when children were retested” (Racial and Ethnic Groups, 80). So if school children could not forget the image of blacks presented in The Birth of a Nation, how adults of world audience could overlook the Moroccan image in Babel, Five Fingers, Casablanca, etc., especially if we consider that most people take images as truth based. The audience gameness to believe whatever images they see in the movies is clearly explained by Contreras in Practical Consideration for Living and Working in Contexts of Diversity:

Most individuals are quite capable of forming opinions without adequate prior-knowledge, thus forming a prejudgement either for or against a group, idea, or person. For example, after learning about the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma, how many people immediately thought the explosion had been the work of Arab terrorists? (Cited in Naylor’s Cultural Diversity in the United States, 330)

Similarly to what happened during the evens of Oklahoma, moviemakers have tried to instil the idea of Arab terrorism in the minds of the audience either through special effects or real military victories. Balio, Barder, Bordwell and Thompson, Shohat and Stam and Hoberman all concur that the movies have influenced virtually every human activity, from politics and warfare to sexual behaviour and dreaming. It is true that after the events of 9/11 for example, the movies have turned Americans as Hoberman notes into “Bob Hoskins in Toontown, real people wandering around delirious mental landscape of special effects, feel good fantasies, and militaristic spectacles (Vulgar Modernism, 334).


This thesis is a cultural studies-based inquiry into the politics of Moroccan representation in the Anglo-American movies and the role they play in deepening the abhorrence and misperception of Moroccan cultural aspects by the west. This thesis will also re-articulate a way of understanding the links between the representations of Moroccans in the Anglo-American films and the unleashing of violence and insolence towards Moroccans and Arabs in general.

The primary research questions guiding my research are: In what ways have Moroccans and Moroccan land been represented in the Anglo-American movies? Is it possible to describe a new specifically Anglo-American form of Orientalism that is distinct from old European forms? How is the identity of Moroccans articulated in opposition to an Anglo-American identity?

To investigate these questions, the thesis relies on a range of data sources: primary and secondary analysis of films, scholarly books and articles, reviews of films, etc. that can help to contribute to a better understanding of how cultural domination can work upon the minds and practices of filmmakers to act around the Moroccan character in a large sample of movies. To decode the movies’ messages, I find myself in a situation where every component in the film must be analysed critically as Martin says in his book, Hollywood’s Movie Commandments “the critic must consider both the way in which the action is portrayed and the effect on the audience” (91). Plot, character, theme, point of view, and setting are all typical areas upon which analysis should concentrate. Because of the film’s peculiar visual qualities, each of these areas takes on additional dimensions. Character, for example, is not only written into the screenplay, but also interpreted and portrayed by the actor. Even more importantly, many of these traditional elements of narration are staged through “mise-en-scene.” When the action is being filmed, the shot, speed of motion, tonality, sound and special effects become also important interpretive factors within a film since cultural representations within a film can be depicted or influenced through these elements.

In this research, I will shell out more concentration to issues raised in the different films and to what they say about Moroccan society and its values. The research relies on cultural studies and the postcolonial theory as its main theoretical and methodological approaches to interpret and analyse the selected films. I will make use of the literary critique of the elements of narration together with the ways in which these elements are portrayed visually. I will use the elements of narration as a guide to discuss the cultural representations across the scenes. Through the postcolonial theory, I aim at re-examining the Moroccan reality with the process of redefining Moroccan identity presented in the Anglo-American cinema. Thus the Moroccan voice will be raised with the promise of giving optimism to the silenced Moroccans in the films.

Three native Moroccan movies will be employed in this research as a postcolonial means to describe people, things and values that live or relate to the geographical locations of the Moroccan society. These films are: M. Abdderrahman Tazi’s Badis, Farida Belyazid’s A Door to the Sky (Une Port sure le Ciel) and Laila El Marrakshi’s Maroock. Through Moroccan third cinema, Moroccan filmmakers led by Abderrahman Tazi define themselves and participate in the discursive processes that rule their destiny. It is true that A. Tazi remains the leader of the third cinema in Morocco which is manifested in his films Badis, Looking for my Wife’s Husband, Lalla Hobby, etc. in these films, he tries to avoid shooting scenes that seem a kind of “fetish for the west” (cited in Beyond Casablanca, 66). A. Tazi’s wakefulness of the subjective representations of western movies is developed during his work with Anglo-American filmmakers who came to make films in Morocco. In his interview with the American anthropologist, Kivin Dwyer, A. Tazi recounts one of the bad experiences that demeans his pride as a Moroccan working with a Hollywood film maker John Derick while filming Bolero (1984). John Derick says to A. Tazi while facing a problem in one of the shots: “what the hell am I doing here in this country? Why didn’t I go to Israel, where people are more civilized, where people are less like-savages” (Beyond Casablanca, 44).

It is hoped that the postcolonial approach which allows for and respects different narrative voices will provide an apt method for looking at the different histories and values reflected in selected Anglophone movies. It is also my hope that the postcolonial method will enhance an understanding of different approaches used by various filmmakers as they attempt to disengage the Moroccan identity from the imperial syndrome.

Rationale for the corpus

The studies of the history, criticism and analysis of these films about Moroccan people and culture are significant in many ways. These films are sampled across the British and American film productions. The selection of the films is based on certain criteria. Since I’m dealing with the representation of Moroccan identity in the Anglo-American cinema, I tried to choose only films that have been shot in Morocco and taking Moroccan culture as the main theme. The films are also selected according to the messages they transmit to the audience about the Moroccan religion, politics, culture, space, geography, women, traditions, etc. in Babel, for example, we see the filmmaker’s representing Morocco in unfair way; we see very old women in black smoking, even young children attacking American tourist- an action which seems to present that all Moroccans young or old hate the American people. In the same movie, we notice again the same old story of sexuality reiterated in the acts of presenting the Moroccan characters sexually thirsty even to their brothers and sisters. In the Sheltering Sky and Hideous Kinky, again, we see stealthy figures appear and disappear without intimating whence they come, nor where they go. These figures seem wearing turbans as big domes standing in shadows waiting to mug a western passer-by. In this film, we also see presentations of the Moroccan “Kasbah” as a labyrinth where western people are doomed to death. In Five Fingers, Islam, main religion in Morocco is associated with terrorism and denunciation of western spectrum. Legionnaire is the film where Moroccan space is divided into two: a dangerous desert from which no western visitor can escape, and whore streets for sexual pleasure for soldiers.

All the films selected for this study are those that narrate Moroccan experience from an imperial eye. This presentation of course affects the Moroccan individual and society. The film’s continuous impact on identity and culture leads us to study some indigenous films productions shot by Moroccan film makers. The Moroccan films would serve a counter discourse to question and rectify the ideological representations imposed by outside cinematic productions.


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