Arabs in Hollywood

Download this lesson with activities

Grade Level:

  • Middle or high school

Relevant Subjects:

  • Social Studies (Arabs, stereotypes)
  • Language Arts (text analysis)


  • Students will think critically about how Arabs and Arab Americans are represented in the media
  • Students will practice the skills and questions to analyze media representations of Arabs and Arab Americans, as well as others.

Essential Question:

  • How do the mainstream media and Hollywood portray Arabs and Arab Americans?

Lesson 1: Planet of the Arabs

Based on Embracing their Origins, Sharing their Stories,


  • Copies of homework questions

Pre-Viewing Discussion:

  • Have students brainstorm different times they have seen representations of Arabs in films, TV shows, the news, and literature.
  • Write their responses on the board and, together, summarize the themes you notice emerging in this list.

Viewing the Video:

  • Show the 9 minute film, Planet of the Arabs. Introduce it by telling the students that this is a montage of clips from popular American films and TV shows and it is meant to capture the common representations of Arabs in the American media. As they watch the film, students should pay careful attention to the kinds of messages that are being communicated to audiences about Arabs. You may want to ask them to take notes on the film so they are prepared for the conversation afterwards.

Post-Viewing Discussion:

  • When the movie is over, have the students journal for 5 minutes around the following question: If these film clips were the only exposure you ever got to Arabs, what would you think of Arabs as people? Why?
  • Discuss:
    • What were some characteristics of the Arabs you saw in these? What examples from these clips support what you are saying? What was stated outright about Arabs and the Arab world? What was merely implied about Arabs and the Arab world?
    • In general, were Arabs portrayed positively or negatively in these clips?
    • Why do you tink these films and TV shows all portray Arabs in this way? Do you think this is how most people see Arabs? Have you ever encountered anyone with these views about Arabs?
    • What do you think is the effect of these portrayals of Arabs in the mainstream media? How do these kinds of portrayals influence people in the US?
    • Do any of these movie clips look familiar to you? Do you think of those films/TV shows in the same way after seeing Planet of the Arabs?


  • Pass out the attached homework assignment

Lesson 2: Reel Bad Arabs

(For high school students, could be adapted for 8th grade)

Based on study guide from Media Education Foundation,


Pre-Viewing Activity:

  • Review the class discussion about Planet of the Arabs and how Arabs are portrayed in American media.
  • Divide students into small groups to discuss the following question: Why do you think Arabs are represented so negatively in Hollywood films? Ask them to come up with at least two reasons. Have the groups share their answers with the class.
  • Explain that they are going to be watching a documentary called Reel Bad Arabs by Dr. Jack Shaheen. Watch the introduction to the film together (0:00-3:18). Ask students to take five minutes to write down their reactions and predict what the rest of the film will be like. Have the students share their thoughts.

Viewing Activity:

  • Explain that Reel Bad Arabs is divided into six different sections. You are going to separate the class into five groups and each group will be responsible for one section of the film. We will watch the last section together at the end.
  • Each group will receive a packet with instructions for a pre-viewing discussion, the viewing of the film, the post-viewing discussion, and then the presentation.
  • The five groups are as follows:
    1. Myths of Arabland
    2. The Arab Threat: Mideast Politics and Hollywood
    3. Terror Inc: Demonizing Palestinians and Muslims
    4. The Only Good Arab
    5. Islamophobia
  • As each group does the assignment, the teacher should walk around and support the students.

Student Presentations:

  • Once the students are prepares, they will present their sections to the class
  • During presentations, students will take notes on the presentations on the note-taking sheet below. Instruct students to write down the main ideas and one question for the presenters.
  • After each presentation, have a couple of students ask their questions

Watching the Final Section:

  • Following the presentations, ask the students what they think of the ideas in Real Bad Arabs. Do they agree with Dr. Shaheen that Arabs are “the most maligned group in the history of Hollywood”? What other groups of people have also been depicted negatively in Hollywood? What are some consequences of negative media representations?
  • Ask students how Hollywood could challenge some of the stereotypes that have emerged?
  • Watch the end of the film, Getting Real, 37:34-the end.
  • Discussion questions:
    1. What images come to your mind when you think of Arab men, women, and children? Are those images different after having seen this film?
    2. What do you think of Dr. Shaheen’s argument that comedy can challenge stereotypes? Can comedy also be used to reinforce stereotypes?
    3. Do you share Dr. Shaheen’s optimism about future portrayals of Arabs? Why or why not?
    4. Dr. Shaheen encourages us not to remain silent when confronted by prejudicial stereotypes. Have you eer spoken up in a situation such as that? What was the experience like? What challenges do people who refuse to remain silent face? How can those challenges be met?

Additional Assignments:

  • If you’d like to give students additional assignments, the Media Education Foundation Study Guide to Reel Bad Arabs has excellent assignment ideas