Jonathan V. Last notes in today's Weekly Standard that the war on terror is not the subject of a single U.S. feature film already produced or in the works. When asked why should be, head of the Motion Picture Association of America, Jack Valenti, replies with questions of his own: "Who would you have as the enemy if you made a picture about terrorism? You'd probably have Muslims, would you not? If you did, I think there would be backlash from the decent, hard-working, law-abiding Muslim community in this country."
Last recalls that the last big-budget movie to deal with terrorism was The Sum of All Fears, based on a Tom Clancy novel. In the novel itself, interestingly, Arab terrorists set off a nuclear bomb at football's Super Bowl. But pressure from militant Islamic organizations caused the identity of the movie's terrorists to be changed in early 2001 to neo-Nazis. ("I hope you will be reassured," wrote Director Phil Alden Robinson back then to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, "that I have no intention of promoting negative images of Muslims or Arabs, and I wish you the best in your continuing efforts to combat discrimination.")
And now? "If anything, the PC pressure has been upped since the war on terror began," observes Last. He believes that such pre-9/11 movies with Middle Eastern villains as G.I. Jane, The Siege and True Lies no longer could be made. "The only organized groups you can make as the enemy," he quotes Valenti saying, with a laugh, "would be the U.S. government, the police, the FBI and corporate America."
But this crushing bout of political correctness is temporary, reassures an unnamed screenwriter. "In 50 years when this war is over, there will be movies about the war on terror and they will show that the bad guys were the bad guys and that the Islamofascists did want to take over the world." Which makes me wonder: If it takes that long for popular culture to acknowledge who the enemy is, can the war be won in less time? (October 10, 2003)
July 23, 2004 update: Jonathan V. Last updates his last report with the good news that Hollywood has come out with the TNT mini-series, The Grid, a movie on terrorism he calls "the bravest, most-daring piece of entertainment in years." Tracey Alexander and Brian Eastman, the executive producers, have finally created a film that "does not pretend that all forms of Islam are benevolent." Here are three examples:
- One character worries about what will happen in Saudi Arabia if "extreme Wahhabis" take over the government; Last believes this to be the first time "Wahhabi" has been used in a non-news television program.
- The heroine explains: "You're right that Islam is the religion of the oppressed. I say that it appeals to oppressed men because it sanctions the oppression of women. To me Islam is one thing: fear. And until the clerics can stand up and say that killing people is the work of the devil, and that it is a woman's God given right to eat, sleep, walk, do, say whatever she wants, I'm dumb, deaf, and blind to what they're selling."
- A red-haired, blue-eyed, all-American young Muslim male from Dearborn, Michigan asserts "I'm proud to be a Muslim" after his father's car dealership has been vandalized. But – here's the novel part – the son turns out to be a terrorist in training.
Last calls The Grid the entertainment industry's "first unvarnished look at the clash of Western civilization and Islamist terrorism. It is the first work not to white-wash the problems some strains of Islam pose. It is the first time Hollywood has gazed at the new world we live in and not been blinded by the glare of political correctness."
August 7, 2004 update: A reader has transcribed and sent me an excerpt from The Grid, 2nd episode. It tells about a Lebanese national named Fuqara who attempts to murder an FBI agent. Fuqara is arrested as he tries to flee the United States and is interrogated by Agent Canary while his attorney is present, who tries to stop the proceedings:
Agent Canary: Mr. Fuqara, who ordered you to commit the assassination?
Fuqara: (Mutters in Arabic.)
Fuqara's Attorney (to Agent Canary): Can we have a moment outside? (The two exit the room.) Don't you dare threaten him with a rend writ.
Agent Canary: He has information about planned attacks here that could threaten thousands of American lives.
Fuqara's Attorney: And that gives you the right to summarily dismiss Mr. Fuqara's rights? Hey, why stop there? Deport all the Muslims in America to win your war!
Agent Canary: I might suggest some rights stop at mass murder.
Fuqara's Attorney: They don't. And until there is an amendment to the constitution to that effect, I will protect Mr. Fuqara's rights.
Jan. 6, 2005 update: I laud Fox Broadcasting Network today in "24 and Hollywood's Discovery of Radical Islam" for breaking the mold.
Jan. 14, 2005 update: I am less complimentary about 24 at a weblog entry started today, "Fox Broadcasting Semi-Caves to CAIR."
July 4, 2005 update: The New York Times reveals today the outline of a new ten-part Showtime drama series called Sleeper Cell, scheduled for broadcast in late fall 2005 or early winter 2006. Reporter Jacques Steinberg finds it in many respects is "unlike any other program that has been produced for American television."
The lead character is an undercover F.B.I. agent who has managed to infiltrate a Southern California sleeper cell largely because he is a practicing Muslim. The character, Darwyn, is the first major role created on an American series - whether before or after the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings - that depicts a Muslim as a hero seeking to check the intentions of terrorists.
The series is said to have the details right "in terms of the prayers that Darwyn utters, the ways he interprets the Koran and his struggles to reconcile his religion with his daily life," in part because three of those playing prominent roles in the creative team behind the scenes are themselves Muslims, "some of whom wear kufis … on the set, and break for regular prayer." Kamran Pasha, 33, a writer on the series and a Muslim, was born in Karachi, Pakistan, grew up in Brooklyn, and majored at Dartmouth College in religion. He explains what he has in mind: "We're showing a Muslim F.B.I. agent, someone who is devout, who is so motivated by both his patriotism as well as his sincere faith as a Muslim that he has to stop these criminals who are abusing his faith."
On the other side, Sleeper Cell shows the sleeper cell members
huddling not in far-away caves but … in such quintessentially American venues as a park (for a child's birthday picnic) and a bowling alley. The leader of the cell, an intermittently personable figure named Farik, is depicted in the first episode as a closeted adherent of a violent strain of Islam who has found cover in a synagogue, where he is accepted as Jewish and harmless.
Sounds like an interesting successor to 24.
Aug. 5, 2013 update: Hillel Zaremba argues at "In Hollywood, It's Déjà Vu All Over Again" that (1) the problem of avoidance has gotten worse over the past decade; (2) it replicates the 1930s, when studio moguls toned down the anti-Nazi themes to keep the German market open; and (3) Jews then and now are at the forefront of making these outrageous decisions.