The Forgotten ‘True Lies’ Protests No One Talks About
Before James Cameron devoted his life to going on deep sea dives and creating glow-in-the-dark planets full of giant blue cat people, he made a little movie called True Lies — which people still seem to love. After all, it’s full of thrills, humor and so many amazing action set pieces that the producers presumably couldn’t afford to pay anyone other than Tom Arnold to play Arnold Schwarzenegger’s buddy.
For all of its pros (including a delightfully sleazy Bill Paxton), True Lies has a few significant drawbacks. In addition to the fact that it’s the story of a husband attempting to save his marriage by traumatizing his wife with the help of his covert paramilitary agency friends, it’s also incredibly racist. The film’s villains are a gang of cartoonishly menacing Middle Eastern terrorists named the “Crimson Jihad” — presumably because Cameron never bothered to look up what jihad actually means.
This isn’t just something people have realized in hindsight, like how most of the Friends gang are basically monsters; even some critics pointed this out at the time. One review noted, “The murdered villains are Arabs, apparently the last people except Episcopalians whom Hollywood feels free to offend en masse.” The film was condemned by the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, which stated that “with the fall of the Soviet empire, Hollywood needs a new enemy; we’ve become a convenient scapegoat.” Someone else of note predicted that the film “probably will stand the test of time as one of the most racist movies Hollywood has ever produced.”
True Lies was banned “in 54 Arab and Muslim countries,” and there were even protests outside movie theaters in 10 American cities, with picketers carrying signs bearing slogans such as "Hasta La Vista Fairness" and "Open Your Eyes and Terminate the Lies."
At the time, Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations claimed that 20th Century Fox’s response to his organization’s complaints about the villains was to claim that the film doesn’t “label them as Arabs or Muslims.” But as Hooper rebutted, “Americans are conditioned to see cues that trigger their response: For instance, the keffiyehs, the Arabic headdress the villains wear. And no motivation is given for these terrorist acts, which is also a stereotype of Muslims — an irrational hatred of America.”
In the end, Fox sought to rectify the situation by adding a disclaimer to the end credits, reading, “This film is a work of fiction and does not represent the actions or beliefs of a particular culture or religion.” According to Hooper, “The only people who saw it were us and three janitors. And it came after the disclaimer that said no animals were hurt in the making of the film.“
Way to go, Hollywood.
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