Posted by Meredith Pahowka on January 20, 2016 in Blog

Talented Arab and Arab American filmmakers and creators are finally receiving more attention in Hollywood. These communities are celebrating the success of a film and TV show that are drawing attention to Arab cinema and working to break down the barriers to a more positive representation.   

“Theeb,” a Jordanian film directed by Naji Abu Nowar, was recently nominated for an Academy award in the category of best Foreign Language film. The film follows Theeb, a young boy living with his Bedouin tribe during World War I in a remote part of the Ottoman Empire. He is swept up on an adventure when his older brother is tasked with escorting a British officer across the desert. This is Jordan’s first Academy Award nomination. European countries such as Italy, France, and Spain typically dominate the nominations in this category. If “Theeb” takes home the Oscar, it will become the first Arab film to receive an Academy Award. The nomination alone means a lot not only to Jordanian cinema, but also to Arab filmmakers around the world. Theeb’s popular success shows that local stories from the Middle East have the ability to resonate with others around the world. 

Another filmmaker of Arab heritage has also received critical acclaim in Hollywood, but for his work on the small screen. Earlier this month, Sam Esmail, the Egyptian American creator of the TV drama series “Mr. Robot,” accepted a Golden Globe on behalf of his show. “Mr. Robot” won the Golden Globe in the category of Best TV Drama Series, and beat out popular favorites such as Game of Thrones. The show is a drama-thriller television series centered on Elliot Alderson, a cyber security engineer and hacker played by Egyptian American Rami Malek. In a moving moment in his acceptance speech, Sam Esmail said “shukran” to his family—a moment that Arabs all over the world praised on Twitter. 

While the nomination of “Theeb” and the win by “Mr. Robot” are encouraging for Arab Americans working in the media, there still overwhelmingly continues to be a negative media bias against Arabs. Arabs in mainstream Hollywood must battle harmful stereotypes rooted in ignorance and are often reduced to a stereotype of villains in the desert. The success of Arab and Arab American-produced content like “Theeb” and “Mr. Robot” are a step in the right direction towards a more positive, inclusive representation of Arab Americans.


Theeb will compete for the Oscar at the 88th Academy Awards on February 28, 2016. See the trailer here:


Watch the trailer for Mr. Robot here: