Sunday, February 19, 2012

Saving Private Perez -- Arab Stereotypes From the Perspective of Mexicans

Stereotypes, we all have them and many of them are influenced by our own societal norms. Tonight I watched Saving Private Perez with a couple of new-found friends and was a little surprised by some of the perceptions held by the Mexican community toward the Arab world in general, but more specifically Iraq. This reminded me of a map of the world through the perspective of a Jordanian that I received from a cousin. I was quite intrigued at the stereotypes that Jordanians have toward certain peoples and cultures.

As is apparent by this map, Jordanians emphasize and place value on the culture, resources, and detail of some countries while completely glossing over others. For instance, in this map, all of South America is represented by Argentina, Brazil and coffee, while Africa's detail is almost completely limited to Northern Africa - Arab states. Each country is represented by a resource, football team, political threat, stereotype or opportunity that directly relates back to the Jordanian experience. This was obviously meant to be more comical than anything else, but this map is quite telling and expresses how Jordanians view themselves, their community and the world in which they live.  This also further feeds into the argument that individuals interpret the world in relation to themselves.

Back to Saving Private Perez...
In the beginning of Saving Private Perez, a Mexican crime ring leader, Juan Perez, has a similar response to the Islamic world, namely Turkey and Iraq. Perez's brother is serving in the US military in Iraq and has been reported missing. Perez's mother tells him that she will forgive him for past misdeeds if he retrieves his brother from Iraq safely and brings him back to Mexico. The determined and driven Perez knows that he must go to Iraq, but has no idea where it is. Several of his compadres had similar responses when they were recruited for the mission. It was clear that he really didn't understand where Iraq really was while he was describing the location to others because he stated that Iraq was near Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Holland. It was a nice touch of comic relief for the audience, but the director's casting choices revealed that the distance between Central America and the Arab world is much greater than I anticipated. Some of the key indicators were horrible Arabic accents, virtually all of the Iraqis were wearing scarves over their faces and had an al-Qaeda appearance. Some of the scenes looked as though they were actually trying to portray Afghanistanis instead of Iraqis.  None of the film scores were even slightly middle eastern. In fact,  it sounded like Indian music. 

It was very eye-opening to watch a Mexican film that allowed me to view an interpretation of "Arab" culture through the Mexican lens. Something that continues to bother me in films is the lack of authenticity that is offered to foreign groups that are portrayed in a film. In this case, the Iraqis, at least the ones that spoke had TERRIBLE accents. This leads me to assume that they are not Arab at all and in Turkey, the Turks were speaking Spanish upon first contact with the Mexicans. Would that really happen?!  I could be wrong, but I think not! Then again, as a low-budget film,  maybe they saved their pennies by using their own actors to play the Iraqi and Turkish characters.

This comedy is a good reminder that at large, Arabs and Central and South Americans do not seem to have much contact with one another and have few incentives to interact on a political, social or economic level.  This leads to some pretty entertaining stereotypes and some crazy movies!