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Yes, “Black Panther” is a little anti-Muslim
Amer Zahr
Amer Zahr
Thursday, March 1, 2018 - 11:10 pm (11 Comments)

Before I get into this amateur movie review of "Black Panther," and before I get into trouble, let me start with a few statistics.

Half of the residents of the African continent are Muslim. 33% of worldwide Muslims live in Africa, and they don't only dwell in nations where Arabic is the official language, like Morocco, Egypt, and Somalia. They're everywhere else too. 80% of Niger's residents are Muslim. 55% of Tanzania's are. 50% of Nigeria. 45% of Ghana. 33% of Kenya. 50% of Chad. 90% of Mali. (All stats here)

Islam was introduced into Africa only a few years after it was revealed in the Arabian Peninsula, and some time before it was introduced to present-day Iran, Turkey, Syria, and Egypt. The continent is home to mosques as old as Islam itself.

My point is this. The faith is a mainstream aspect of the continent's society as a whole. Islam is not some strange, minority phenomenon in Africa. It is not a scourge. But that's exactly how it was briefly illustrated in the film.

Let me also say that the "Black Panther" script was written by Americans, with what we can assume to be primarily American conceptions of Islam, Arabs, and Muslims. They’re not Africans. Let's note that for posterity.

So, the movie opens with Black Panther and two of his co-heroines saving a truck full of young girls from Muslim bad guys in Nigeria.  It’s a direct reference to Boko Haram and the well-publicized 2014 kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls from the state of Borno in northeast Nigeria. In the scene, these "bad guys" wore Arab keffiyehs (those red-checkered scarves). One even threw in an Arabic word (“Wallahi, I’ll kill her"). Members of Boko Haram don’t speak Arabic, by the way.  Further, the group has been universally condemned by Muslims, including the Muslim democratically-elected president of Nigeria. Muslims have been victims of Boko Haram (including many of those schoolgirls). Muslim soldiers have fought them.

Now, a moviegoer in Africa or the non-African Arab world might be well aware of these complexities and circumstances. But Black Panther is an American piece of art.  And in this scene, in this respect, it’s careless. And yes, in this scene, in this respect, it’s textbook Islamophobia. Stereotypical. Devoid of context. Simplistic.

Additionally, the scene is completely superfluous. It has literally nothing to do with any other storyline in the movie. It just ticks off the “Muslim bad guy” box. It reminded me of the opening of “Back to the Future,” where Doc and Marty are attacked (and Doc is shot) by yelling, irrational, gun-wielding “Libyans.” That scene has been chronicled by many academics as anti-Arab/Muslim. That instance of stereotyping, at a minimum, had something to do with the story of the film. The occurrence in “Black Panther” seemed completely gratuitous.

Islam is portrayed, albeit briefly (which might make it worse), to the American audience as nothing more than a hostile, evil, even fringe element of Africa. In reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The film illustrates Islam in a manner no more refined than "The Siege" or "True Lies." The scene in question would have fit into a Chuck Norris movie as easily as it was thrown into this one.

Ultimately, the scene is just another manifestation of the phenomenon that Muslims and Arabs are the most fashionable, consequence-free punching bag in media, politics, and mass entertainment. It's done as a matter of routine with no prior reflection.

Does that mean the project, as a whole, is Islamophobic? Of course not. I recognize, and delight in, the deep importance of this to Black communities. I share in that jubilation. Everyone, and every Arab, should see this movie. Any call to boycott it is silly. But its magnificence in one respect doesn't immunize it from critique in another.

As an Arab American watching the film, I was energized by seeing superheroes of color.  I was actually harkened back to my own youth, when my parents made it a point that we would gather as family in the living room and watch Black sitcoms like “The Cosby Show,” “Family Matters,” “A Different World,” and so on. The authorization of Black voices and narratives in the film is monumental, especially in a movie this grand. I enjoyed the overt rejections of white supremacy and colonialism (the film wasn’t very creative or subtle in this respect, but that’s OK with me). The movie painted what an African nation could have been without the evils of colonialism. I see all of that. I love all of that.

“Black Panther” is a $200 million Marvel superhero movie, so I don’t necessarily expect it to be sophisticated, delicate, or profound in a social or political manner. On the other hand, it will gross over $1 billion, and to demonstrate that a Black movie can do that is wildly important.

But let me ask you this. Imagine a film directed and written by Arabs, populated by Arab actors, celebrating Arab culture, depicting us as refined, fierce, compassionate, technologically superior, and all-around badasses. Now imagine it opened with a scene with our Arab superhero rescuing young Arab girls from stereotypical Black “thugs” and “gangsters.” Arab American intellectuals and activists who have been working for intersectionality, myself included, would be up in arms, denouncing a clear instance of the perpetuation of anti-Black images.

So, I’m disappointed by those same Arab American minds dismissing the opening scene of this film as negligible, or critiques about it as frivolous. I deeply believe that Arab Americans and African Americans are family, common victims of the racist strands that seek to sideline, silence, and slam our voices (I have written about this often). But “Black Panther” can be a powerful ode to Black culture and empowerment, while also falling into the all-too-common trap of taking an onscreen potshot at us. It’s OK to say that "Black Panther" is a little anti-Muslim. And that's still too much.

* Amer Zahr is a Palestinian American comedian, writer, professor and speaker living in Dearborn, Michigan. He is also the editor of "The Civil Arab."

Comments (11)
  1. Roux Renard ... March 2nd, 2018 - 11:46

    By their deeds Boko Haram are clearly NOT Muslims. 50% of Africa being Muslim is TOTALLY irrelevant to a film about a city that had been cut off from the rest of Africa and the world. I note Amer is a comedian maybe he should stick to that career.

    • “Maybe” you should read Amer’s nuanced & accurate post again. Your comment reads as “TOTALLY irrelevant to a film” that Amer has skillfully pointed out again uses Arabs & Muslims to signify the embodiment of *evil*.

      Your & other people’s obvious inability to comprehend how that impacts Arab & Muslim lives – in America & around the world – creates serious problems for us. Arab American New Yorkers phones tapped by the police. People having been redacted to other countries & tortured. Guantanamo Bay used to circumvent our trial laws. Arab people murdered by their neighbours in the States. Other people not Arab being murdered for being mistaken for Arabs.

      We have every reason to fight these simplistic & very dangerous stereotypes & tropes which seriously disorder & even destroy our lives. Other non-Arabs of colour are just as influenced by these tired & erroneous tropes about how evil we supposedly are as Euro Americans are influenced by them.

    • Also Amer is not only a “comedian” – he’s a lawyer…

    •  he’s a lawyer, and he knows what he is talking about , which it’s Cleary seems very difficult for you to understand

  2. Here is only one example of anti Arab hatred on a popular Black American blog (w/ a few people from other nations/countries who comment as well).

    The post was on Trump’s Muslim Ban which devolved in the thread to attacking “Arabs” – including a wish for a biobomb that would kill Arabs but leave everyone else. Take note of the people in the thread concurring w/ the hatred shown toward us & also the ‘likes’.

    For another example of this type in the blog Kushite Prince + the word ‘Arabs’ & you will be able to read another one of these posts full of love for us.

    Btw – my Lebanese American dad was seen as “a black man” by both Euro Americans & Black Jamaicans. People tried to prevent him marrying my blonde green eyed German refugee mother & he was kept from buying houses in certain areas (etc.). And I do not look like my pale mother. So please remember that some of us who are not passing are fighting these battles from every side. (Please see Amer’s ‘We’re not white’ post & documentary).

    The biobomb thread:

  3. This is 👌🏼. You were able to criticize that negative aspect of the movie while still appreciating it’s good.

  4. “Additionally, the scene is completely superfluous. It has literally nothing to do with any other storyline in the movie.”

    the scene serves to show that nakia, as an embedded spy, had a passion for working with black people across the diaspora outside of wakanda. this is important because nakia’s character was the counterpoint of t’challa’s character. t’challa was the head of an isolationist african nation, and nakia – his former love and intellectual partner – was not willing to be politically isolationist.

    nakia’s character also serves to show the differences in liberation theory when looking at killmonger’s appetite for vengeance, destruction, and the ultimate empowerment of black americans.

    perhaps the use of the kidnappers in the film was islamophobic. i’ll have to discuss this more with folks. however, you need to note that the scene itself was not superfluous. it was integral to understanding the political struggle of the three characters i mentioned.

  5. There is also the matter of young Arab & Muslim boys the world over internalising the violent images they see of themselves in Hollywood & European & Israeli film & television – then acting it out. Hollywood etc. are partly responsible for Daesh/IS… And prior to one hundred years ago there were the novels & racist travelogues. (See Edward Said ‘Orientalism’).

    Please realise that we were so dehumanised that our buried bodies were ground into powder for use in European apothecaries for medicine. We may not be pulverised in a mortar anymore but we are still being dehumanised daily. Other people not Arab need to open their eyes about this. It creates an angry backlash as we have seen w/ Daesh/IS.

    And we are also the victims. My former NYC Maronite Church – Our Lady of Lebanon – lost eight people in the Trade Towers & PA crash on 9/11:

    Robert Dirani (Deraney)

    Catherine Gorayb (Grarib)

    Boutros (Peter) Hashim

    Mark Hindi (Hindy)

    Walid (Waleed) Iskander

    Joud (Jude) Moussa

    Joudi (Jude) Safi

    Jaqueline Sayegh

    Just as Arabs are also the primary victims in Syria & Iraq & Yemen and both non-Arabs & Arabs (Arab speakers) the victims in Africa (Somalia & Egypt & Libya).

    As my Indigenous American/Apache musician friend said from a stage in NYS a few years ago “You will never be happy until we are happy”

    Prayers & Love 🌲

  6. There is also the Marvel Comics character The Shadow King AKA Amahl Farouk (1979).

    “The Shadow King is an entity of pure psychic energy which feeds on the hatred of humanity, manifesting itself by possessing the bodies of humans.” (Wikipedia)

    Note his Arabic name. (Despite the misspelling of Amal). Two very beautiful Arab names symbolising very spiritual noble loving values – used to represent the embodiment (literally) of *evil*.

    Then there is the casting of Gal Gadot in the recent Wonder Woman film. It is great that they cast a Blackfeet actor & he spoke his Indigenous language in the film; but as usual we were thrown under the wheels. This is because the Israeli actress & former IDF soldier Gal Gadot stated that she thinks it is acceptable to kill Gazan Palestinian children & blamed them for their own deaths via the tired & deadly “human shields” trope/lie.

    This is why the film was banned in Lebanon. And yet another example in which our American brothers & sisters of colour have not taken our precarious predicament (often ending in our deaths) into account. The Indigenous Twittersphere was awash w/ how great this film was/is. (Indigenous American). I get it because of the Native actor & character; but it breaks my heart when our allies consistently abandon us.

    Regardless of wether you believe in free speech & freedom in art & thus disagree w/ the Lebanon banning; it is problematic & heartbreaking that there was so much silence in the States by other POC on Gal Gadot’s comments about Palestinian children massacred (yes massacred) in Gaga.

    I am just now reading Steven Salaita’s 2006 book ‘Anti-Arab Racism in the USA: Where it Comes from and What it Means for Politics Today’. Along w/ Edward Said & Jack Shaheen & others; everyone trying to get their heads round how & why & where these films & comics impact us (both in the States & overseas) should read this book.

    • *Obviously I meant to write ‘in Gaza’ – NOT “in Gaga”. I hope no anti-Arabists start using that! 🐚🌊🌲🌞

  7. De toute façon c’est encore un film qui dénigre les musulman Fait par ces gros fils de pute de sioniste américain tapin D’ISRAhell soir maudit toi salope d Amérique Tu est la plus grosse pute d’Israël nikee vos mere la pute vous les juifs

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