Secretary of State John Kerry met with studio executives at Universal Studios this past week to brainstorm ideas on how to counteract the ISIS narrative through utilizing the storytellers in the Middle East. According to this Variety article, the meeting lasted only 90 minutes and the executive attendees included Jeff Shell, chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group; MPAA Chairman Chris Dodd; Warner Bros. Entertainment CEO Kevin Tsujihara; DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg; 20th Century Fox Chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos; 20th Century Fox Co-Chair Stacey Snider; Sean Bailey, president of Walt Disney Motion Picture Production; Universal Pictures Chairman Donna Langley; Tom Rothman, chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Motion Picture Group; Universal Pictures President Jimmy Horowitz; Amblin Partners CEO Michael Wright; and NBCUniversal Vice Chairman Ron Meyer.

 

During my years of studying Arabic and Arab culture at the University of Texas in Austin, we were given opportunities to watch Middle Eastern movies every week. So I have seen quite a bit of Middle Eastern cinema. The movies were typically made in Egypt, but some were also made in the Levant. The only way you could tell the difference was usually the dialects or landmarks. There is a huge difference between Middle Eastern movies and Hollywood movies.

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There are no “happily-ever-after” endings like the ones we have come to love in Hollywood. Most of their movies are filled with pain, personal trials, and misery. It got to the point where I dreaded watching them every week because they were so depressing. Rape, incest, and murder were usually the plot lines. The movies were not made so much for entertainment but as a way for people to learn how to cope with those painful situations.

I believe that the group’s conclusion, to involve local storytellers to counteract ISIS’s narrative, is a step in the right direction. However, I don’t know if their expectations are going to be met if they don’t understand the culture and psychology behind Middle Eastern cinema. I would be interested in seeing how this develops and what the end product will actually be.

Image courtesy of LA Times