Hollywood Harems: A Documentary by Tania Kamal-Eldin was produced by Women Make Movies (Firm) in 1999. Tania Kamal-Elin is an independent filmmaker and college educator. He has an MA in visual arts from UCSD, an MA in political economy from the London School of Economics. He has also taught at Palomar College and UCSD. Kamal-Elin’s accomplishments include the publication of several fictional novels along with the co-authorship of a storybook. Her current job is an assistant professor at the American University, School of Communication in Film and Media Arts, in Washington DC In Hollywood Harems: A Documentary, Kamal-Elin reveals to viewers that Hollywood’s portrayal of harem dancers has inadvertently reinforced or intentionally the surrounding stereotype. Middle Eastern women while continuing to raise the social status of Anglo-European and American women.
The stereotype surrounding Middle Eastern women has been widespread since Europeans first visited the Middle East and brought up highly exaggerated stories of sensualized places where men’s lust and thirst for skin are satisfied. Despite its falsehood, the portrayal of scantily clad women sensually strewn across a room in various positions doing nothing but lazily enjoying music and indulging themselves has been Hollywood’s preferred portrayal of Middle Eastern women. In fact, most Middle Eastern women did not engage in morally ambiguous activities, but embraced the stereotype that Western nations attributed to their culture; for example in Micklewright’s Harem / House / Set:
“The Ottoman snapshots, playing on the harem stereotype, reveal not only an understanding of the stereotype but also a complex sense of parody. By inhabiting the stereotype themselves and intentionally constructing a flawed version, the photographer and his subjects are reclaiming their own agency. in tackling (and mocking) the western constructions of their society. ” (Micklewright 257)
Kamal Elin uses clips of harems from Hollywood productions dating back to the 1920s, 60s, 70s, and 80s to show how Hollywood convinced the general public to believe that Middle Eastern women are more than willing subjects in fantasized harems. by men. In reality, the actresses who play these stereotypical harems were actually born and raised in the heart of America, came to Hollywood with no resources, and were forced to accept whatever acting opportunities were available. In some cases, these actresses adopted the role of harem girls and made their fortune convincing young people of their exotic sensuality.
Hollywood Harems: A Documentary is a historical film piece that shares many of the same aspects of our other readings: highly sexualized harems are the product of stereotypes perpetuated by Anglo-Europeans and Anglo-Americans due to the belief that the status of women in Western countries they are morally superior to those of the East or to fulfill the fantasies of the young people who believe the rumors about the harems of the Middle East. In Hollywood Harems: A Documentary, the film producers of the different clips combined different elements of elements originating from Arab, Persian, Chinese and Indian culture to form the atmosphere of a fictional Middle East that viewers were used to in a similar way. how British photographer Roger Fenton created a harem setting for his photographs. Fenton’s photographs portrayed a “generous use of textiles of different colors, textures and patterns to create the space, which is furnished with a low sofa and cushions. Smaller decorative elements: the inlaid table, a tray with a coffee pot and cups. , the two flutes and the musical instruments (violin, tambourine and drum) complete the scene “. (Micklewright 242)
Fenton’s use of these decorative elements gave his buyers the Middle Eastern setting they desired, despite the fact that the general population of the Ottoman Empire from which he was inspired hardly had harems within their own home and those with designated rooms for harems were not even remotely close to Fenton’s representation.
Hollywood Harems: A Documentary reveals that the media representation of the harems of the Middle East was enthusiastically received by the general public as the correct representation of the daily life of Middle Eastern women. The various clips in Hollywood Harems: A Documentary were for the most part in black and white, but the filmmakers manipulated various elements of the film to add to the atmosphere they intended in the Middle East. Some filmmakers used dim lighting in their work to elicit a sense of squalor and taboo that hinted that harems were places where shady and possibly illegal transactions were common. The filmmakers also decided that the costume options indicated that women wear only the minimum amount of clothing because the regulations that dictate the amount of clothing for women required in a film only apply to Anglo-female women and not ethnicities. Finally, like Robert Fenton’s or Sebah and Joaillier’s portrayal of harems, the filmmakers strategically placed luxurious items such as ottomans, musical instruments, and reclining chairs to combine the feel of a room intended for relaxing and sensual activities.
Historical Harems: A documentary by Tania Kamal Elin is a valid source of history that fulfills its mission to identify the influence of Hollywood films on the general population’s perception of the harems and women of the Middle East. Kamal Elin juxtaposes clips from different decades in the 1900s that demonstrate how the misguided stereotype of the harems of the Middle East persisted to this day. My reaction to the film is one of surprise and enlightenment because I realize that most people have this stereotype about harems, myself included. The influence of the media in everyday life is tremendous and I am sure I have many other stereotypes that have yet to be discovered. The visuals of the harems in each clip were indicative of the era in which it was produced, showing us what viewers in each given time period believed the harems were. Historical Harems – A documentary provides an eye-opening insight into the stereotypes of Middle Eastern harems held by Western civilizations.