The Siege

Tucson Weekly

DIRECTED BY: Edward Zwick

REVIEWED: 11-09-98

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) has expressed grave fears about the potential effects of this film, which they believe could increase hatred and suspicion towards members of the Muslim and American-Arab communities. The Siege tells the story of a wave of terrorist bombings that occur in New York City. In response, the U.S. government declares martial law and imprisons all Arab men (which here seems to mean anyone of Persian, Middle Eastern or North African descent) between the ages of 14 and 30. The film does attempt to address the issue of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice in the United States; however, in its broad Hollywood way, it employs stereotypes, simplifications and sometimes offensive misrepresentations of Islam. Perhaps most egregious are the images of the terrorists (who are only referred to as "Muslims" and "Arabs," as though those terms could constitute a cohesive identity or a terrorist organization) performing ritual hand washing prior to their attacks: the film implies that this is something specifically done in preparation for acts of violence, when in fact this is a daily ritual that Muslims engage in prior to prayer. When the army places all of Brooklyn's young males of Arab descent in a camp, the scene shows an unrealistically homogenous crowd of people, all with the same pigmentation and clothing. The effort to mute this effect by casting Tony Shalhoub as one of the FBI agents in charge of the investigation is itself muted by having him play sidekick and second-fiddle to leading man Denzel Washington. Still, interesting issues are raised here: in several scenes, disembodied voices point out that this kind of government action would not be tolerated against Jewish or Black Americans; the army is definitely portrayed as villainous in their treatment of the Arabic prisoners; and there are (fairly awkward) assurances that "most" Arabs are decent, law-abiding citizens. The very fact that the film begins to question the prejudices against Arabs and Muslims shows a radical leap forward in Hollywood thinking. In spite of the very reasonable reservations of the ADC, the history of American cinema shows that clumsy first steps like The Siege are often signs of real progress.


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The Siege

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The Siege
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Other Films by Edward Zwick
Courage Under Fire
Legends of the Fall

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