As an Arab American with a background in media criticism, I often feel like a broken record, calling out the endless stereotypes of Arabs in U.S. popular culture. I long for transgressive representations, those that break the mold and offer audiences thought-provoking stories about humanity. When I find them, I exclaim, “Alhamdulillah!”—an Arabic expression that literally means, “Praise be to God,” but culturally translates as: “Hell, yeah!” The independent film Detroit Unleaded deserves such a shout-out.
The Dutch chocolate-milk manufacturer Chocomel has produced a new commercial that has gotten nearly 800k views on YouTube in the three weeks since it was posted. How has a commercial for a sweet dairy drink drawn that kind of attention? By employing old Orientalist and racist tactics, and Arab face. You know the kind: sleazy Arab sheikh tries to get what he wants by luring an innocent white man into his “palace,” where eager, exotic women line the walls.
Although, I must admit they’ve put some fresh spins on an old move. Here’s how:
You may have heard of the classic story Alice in Wonderland. In the 1951 Disney film version of the Lewis Caroll tale, Alice finds herself in a newfound world, where she meets a cast of rude characters with outlandish customs, including a hookah-smoking caterpillar. Now what if instead of falling into Wonderland, Alice were kidnapped and taken to Arabia?