Best Olace To Find J Fashion That Fit Americans Hollywood Harems: A Documentary Film Review

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Hollywood Harems: A Documentary Film Review

Tania Kamal-Eldin’s Hollywood Harems: A Documentary was produced by Women Make Movies (Firm) in 1999. Tania Kamal-Elin is an independent filmmaker and university lecturer. She holds an MFA in Visual Arts from UCSD, an MSC in Political Economy from the London School of Economics. She has also taught at Palomar College and UCSD. Kamal-Elin’s accomplishments include publishing various fictional novels along with co-authoring a book of short stories. Her current job is an assistant professor at the American University, School of Communication in Film and Media Arts, in Washington DC In Hollywood Harems: A Documentary, Kamal-Elin reveals to viewers that Hollywood’s portrayal of harem dancers has inadvertently or intentionally reinforced the stereotype surrounding Middle Eastern women, while they continue to raise the social status of Anglo-European and American women.

The stereotype surrounding Middle Eastern women has been prevalent since Europeans first visited the Middle East and brought back greatly exaggerated tales of sensualized locales where men’s lust and thirst for skin are indulged. Despite its falsity, the portrayal of scantily clad women sensually strewn across a room in various positions doing nothing but lazily enjoying music and pampering themselves has been Hollywood’s preferred depiction of Middle Eastern women. In fact, the majority of Middle Eastern women do not participate in such morally ambiguous activities, but embraced the stereotype that Western nations placed on their culture; for example in Micklewright’s Harem/House/Set:

“The Ottoman snapshots that play with the harem stereotype reveal not only an understanding of the stereotype but also a complex sense of parody. By inhabiting the stereotype themselves and consciously constructing a flawed version, the photographer and his subjects assert their own agency in addressing (and mocking) Western constructions of their society.” (Micklewright 257)

Kamal Elin uses clips of harems from Hollywood productions dating back to the 1920s through the 60s, 70s and 80s to show how Hollywood convinced the general public to believe that Middle Eastern women are more than willing subjects in male fantasized harems. In reality, the actresses who portray these stereotypical harems are actually born and raised in America’s heartland, arriving in Hollywood with no resources and forced to accept what acting opportunities there were. In some cases, these actresses embraced the role of harem girls and made their fortune by convincing young men of their exotic sensuality.

Hollywood Harems: A Documentary is a historical piece of film that shares many of the same aspects of our other readings: highly sexualized harems are a product of stereotypes perpetuated by Anglo-Europeans and Anglo-Americans because either the belief that the status of women in Western countries are morally superior to those from the Orient or to fulfill the fantasies of young men who believe the rumors of Middle Eastern harems. In Hollywood Harems: A Documentary, the filmmakers of the various clips combined distinct elements of objects derived from Arab, Persian, Chinese and Indian culture to form the atmosphere of a fictionalized Middle East that viewers were used to in a way similar to how British photographer Roger Fenton created a harem frame for his photographs. Fenton’s photographs portrayed a “lavish use of textiles of various colors, textures and patterns to create the room, which is furnished with a low sofa and cushions. Smaller decorative elements – the inlaid table, a tray with a coffee pot and cups, two pipes, and the musical instruments (spike fiddle, tambourine and drum) fill the stage.” (Micklewright 242)

Fenton’s use of these decorative elements gave his buyers the Middle Eastern setting they desired, despite the fact that the common people of the Ottoman Empire, from which he drew his inspiration, were unlikely to have harems in their own households, and those with rooms intended to the harem, was not even close to Fenton’s depiction.

Hollywood Harems: A Documentary reveals that the media’s portrayal of Middle Eastern harems was enthusiastically received by the general public as the correct depiction of the everyday life of Middle Eastern women. The various clips in Hollywood Harems: A Documentary were mostly in black and white, but the filmmakers manipulated several film elements to contribute to their intended Middle Eastern atmosphere. Some filmmakers used muted lightning in their work to create a sense of seedyness and taboo, insinuating that harems were places where shady and possibly illegal transactions were common. Filmmakers also decided on the costume choices instructing women to wear only the minimal amount of clothing because the rules dictating the amount of clothing for women required in a film only applied to English women and not ethnicities. Finally, like Robert Fenton or Sebah and Joaillier’s depiction of harems, the filmmakers strategically placed luxurious objects such as ottomans, musical instruments and armchairs to gather the feeling of a space intended for relaxing and sensual activities.

Tania Kamal Elin’s Historical Harems: A Documentary is a valid source of history that accomplishes its mission of identifying the influence of Hollywood films on the general population’s perception of harems and Middle Eastern women. Kamal Elin compiles clips from different decades of the 20th century that demonstrate how the misunderstood stereotype of Middle Eastern harems has persisted to this day. My reaction to the film is one of surprise and enlightenment due to my realization that the majority of people have this stereotype of the harem myself. The influence of the media in everyday life is huge, and I’m sure I have several other stereotypes that have yet to be discovered. The visual elements of the harems from each clip were indicative of the time it was produced, showing us what viewers from each particular time period thought harems were. Historical Harems: A Documentary provides an eye-opening insight into the stereotypes of Middle Eastern harems held by Western civilizations.

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