Cultural Glimpse

Enjoying diversity

Tag: Hollywood

A Conversation with a Native American about Shamanism

shaman

This is a conversation I had with the Native American man I’ve known for decades who I call in my books the Red Indian. This portion is about shamanism and is taken from my memoir series but one day I will write a book solely about him because he has fascinating perspectives worth sharing.

When we spoke about shamanism, he said, “Shamanism was like a society that made sure people stay well. The society policed themselves. All Natives have different societies inside their tribe, a group of people that study the same things, like the plants, the animals, the stars, the rocks. It’s like your writers group. It’s a society.” He paused momentarily before he continued. “You know what the dreamcatcher is? It was a society that disbanded, and the dreamcatcher was given away to the people. That’s why there’s a dream catcher hanging in everyone’s car or in their house or key chains.”

“Why are some natives very angry that people use the word shamanism to describe healing?” I asked.

“Because some people are belittling everything around them to look more powerful than everyone else when in fact it’s the other way around. Everyone is more powerful than them.”

“But if it’s a good thing, wouldn’t it make more sense for natives to share this knowledge with people and educate them?”

“We’ve done this all along. We shared everything with people. We felt it was our duty to share and as soon as they found out, they put us in jails and killed us. As it says in the bible, don’t throw your pearls before swine. We were a very giving people. We fed people and gave information, and what came back to us was some guy hanging on the tree. Wow! It went from giving good things all around the world to receiving back very, very bad things. Most native people that I know are pretty quiet on what they say. It’s not that it’s a secret, but it’s a society, like doctors in the hospital who no one sees. They gather and discuss certain issues and no one knows about it, not even the nurses.”

“I read somewhere that one reason natives get angry about how others use the word shamanism is because Hollywood misuses and abuses this word.”

“Natives had a very hard time with Hollywood,” he said. “You know what Hollywood is? Holly wood is the stick that comes from the holly tree, and Merlin was the king’s magician in Europe who would go around the country like a politician telling people what’s good for them and why they should vote for him. Historically, magician’s wand is made of holly wood. Magicians were good at what they did and made people believe there was magic behind it all when it was really an illusion.”

“Couldn’t an illusion be the same as reality?”

“If you want to believe that way, yeah,” he said. “It’s like believing the sun comes up at six o’clock at night. It’s not real. It’s an illusion. If you believe it, it’s real to you but it’s not real to nature. That’s what an illusion is. It’s a trick. So people who call themselves shamans are for natives just an illusion, trying to call themselves something that’s not real. On the other hand, there are people that can do a cause-and-effect on earth here. It’s usually not personal. Of course, it’s a prayer. You ask the Creator to do something. If people say they can do it themselves, they’re probably a pretty big devil. It’s one evil person trying to cause something for themselves or other people and that’s not good. When you ask something from the Creator, then it’s the best thing for you. It might not be what you want, but it’s the best thing for you. Oh Lord, I need patience, and I need it right now!”

He laughed at the irony, and we were silent for a moment.

“The reason I mentioned Hollywood is because that’s the magician’s wand, and it’s not real. The whole Hollywood thing is not real. They depict something and tell a story, have you believe it’s real and of course it’s not real.”

“It’s like that movie Captain Phillips. They made him a hero when he jeopardized the lives of his crew. Even though the people on the ship came out and told the truth, no one did anything about the non-truth. They did not boycott the film. It was accepted as is.”

“That’s what I mean,” he said. “There are people that relish in the thought of shamanism. Anyone with this much authority that can create the cause-and-effect of things is very humble, and they wouldn’t want you to think of them as a magician. They wouldn’t call themselves shamans to begin with and they would have much experience because they take care of a lot of people, children and grandchildren and those who come to them with problems. They’re normally wiser people. Generations of people make wise, not fifteen minutes of class.

“Just because a person is old doesn’t mean they’re wise. Some portray elderly native people as very wise, bla, bla, bla, but to native people, a baby could be very wise. No one person is greater than another. Wise people make decisions with consideration to the seven generations that are not born as opposed to what I need right now. I can make a decision for something I want right now, but it might not be a good thing for my grandchildren. A decision can be made by looking at the seven generations behind and the seven generations to come. It’s harder to look into the future than it is to look at the history. It’s still a consideration for the future.”

Black Filmmakers have it Made – Compared to Us!

First Day of Filmming

First day of filming The Great American Family, a documentary which is currently in post-production.

Most people know me as an author and journalist, but I’m also a filmmaker, one who has to almost work underground, using my own flashlight, like a miner. It’s difficult enough being a women filmmaker let alone one with Middle Eastern background. So when Chris Rock talked at the Oscars about the lack of blacks in Hollywood (in films, receiving awards, etc.) I thought, “They Have it Made – Compared to us!”

Over ten years ago I was at the Surrey Writer’s Conference in Vancouver and I met with three producers, one who’d produced Father of the Bride II, one who produced Pay it Forward, and the third, I forgot what he produced. Anyhow, I pitched to them and their reactions to my stories were quite unique. Even though the U.S. had been politically involved with Iraq for decades, even though my stories were of modern day Iraqis and Iraqi-Americans, these producers didn’t see how they could possibly adapt them into film.

“It would be difficult to cast an Arabic movie,” one said. “Who would we cast for the leading role? Tom Hanks?”

As if Tom Hanks is the only actor in Hollywood! It was not a problem to cast him in The Terminal, a sweet and delicate comedy, similar to my type of work – where Tom plays a man from the fictional country of Krakozhia who is stuck at John F. Kennedy International Airport.  It was possible to cast Dustin Hoffman and John Travolta as women (Tootsie and Hairspray), but it is impossible to get a good actor to play a normal Arab?

Plus, the roles of “bad” Arabs have been easily played by other western actors, starting with Rudolph Valentino. In the 1920’s he starred in The Sheik and Son of the Sheik, two films which set the stage for the exploration and negative portrayal of Arabs in Hollywood films. They both represented Arab characters as thieves, murderers, and brutes.

Jack Shaheen, in his book Reel Bad Arabs, surveyed more than 900 film appearances of Arab characters. Of those, only a dozen were positive and 50 were balanced. Shaheen writes that “Arab stereotypes are deeply ingrained in American cinema. From 1896 until today, filmmakers have collectively indicted all Arabs as Public Enemy #1 – brutal, heartless, uncivilized religious fanatics and money-mad cultural “others” bent on terrorizing civilized Westerners

I didn’t make such remarks to that particular producer, who smiled at me as though I was a naive little girl. In the middle of our conversation, he had actually winked to his colleague, as if to say, “Isn’t she a darling creature to have such profound visions?”

I walked away, uninfluenced by their discouragement, but over the years, I saw how negative images keep certain communities in the dark and without a voice. When I watched the Oscars the other day and listened to the emphasis on the lack of black peoples receiving roles and awards, I thought, they have it made – compared to filmmakers of Middle Eastern and Arab backgrounds. For us, we can’t even get our stories in the industry let alone be given roles and win awards.

Stereotypical representations of Arabs and Muslims are often manifested in a society’s media, literature, theater and other creative expressions, and often have real repercussions for people in daily interactions and in current events. Though not legally prohibited, stereotyping could put innocent people in danger.

I’m glad that black people are at least bringing this subject to light, because for humans to survive, diversity must have a home. With millions of Middle Easterners living in the US, making them the fastest growing group of immigrants, and with so many social, political and religious issues regarding that region – Iraq in particular – happening on a daily basis, it is becoming absolutely essential for Hollywood to provide film audiences everywhere true stories of the lifestyle and culture of the modern Middle Easterner. In this way, cultures will develop a better understanding of each other, and thus, the world will be pushed into another, a more diverse reality.

 

 

 

 

 

Wild, a Meaningful Adventure

Wild

A few days ago I was invited by AMC Theater to a complimentary screening of Wild. The film was described as one woman’s 1,100-mile journey to self-discovery, and it was based on the bestselling book by Cheryl Strayed. I decided to go because the story seemed unique and meaningful, and such stories are not easy to come by. I invited my friend to come along. She is not as enthusiastic about meaningful films, and asked, impishly, “Can we watch Dumb and Dumber instead?”

“No,” I said, knowing that she’s trying to say I watch boring films.

Within ten minutes of Wild, my friend and I were captured – captured by what the main character, Cheryl Strayed (played by Reese Witherspoon) is trying to do by leaving everything behind to hike more than a thousand miles on the Pacific Crest Trail all on her own. She is washing away past hurts of her own reckless behavior, a heroin addiction, a divorce, and her mother’s untimely death. She is healing and ultimately empowering herself.

The film had no car or rape chases, no one being shot at or shooting at someone, no child abuse, or physical fights. It had humor and real people. The suspense was in caring about this one woman’s journey, because we relate to this journey that most of us want to take – though not necessarily through a 1,100-mile hike.

When we left the theater, my friend admitted that she really liked this film, to which I thought, “Halleluiah.” I have finally converted her. I noticed a man standing with a pen and paper asking for our views to submit to the studio. People told him they liked the film, that it was touching and interesting. I said to him, “The film reminds me of the foreign films I used to watch (especially the French), where stories were saturated with feelings and meanings.”

At home, I did a little research on Wild and discovered that it was directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, a Canadian film director from Quebec. Still, it was made by an American studio, and will have a theatrical release on December 5th, and not just in independent theaters.

Years ago, a successful screenwriter said in a lecture that Hollywood executives told him, “Don’t have a message. People don’t like to think.”

Either these executives were totally wrong, or times are changing – thank God.

Detroit Unleaded – Red Carpet Premiere

Detroit Unleaded

When I received an invitation to view Detroit Unleaded at the Detroit Institute of Film, for its red carpet premiere, I had to smile. “You did it, Roula!” I thought.

Roula Nashef, the writer, director and producer of the film went to the same film school I went to, Motion Picture Institute of Michigan. I had met her on several occasions and I have been following her hard and long journey towards completing her first feature film. As a filmmaker myself, it is inspiring to see a woman like Roula not only get her film onto the big screen, in an industry where the percentage of women filmmakers is less than 9 percent, but for the film to also win awards.

The Director of the Detroit Institute of Films was at the Toronto Film Festival when he decided to watch Detroit Unleaded. He was impressed.

“When I find something that is extraordinary I try to present it to as many people as humanly possible,” he said tonight. “I fell in love with this movie. The whole country will ultimately fall in love with this movie because it is a wonderful movie.”

That it is. Aside from the fact that it is 100% cast and filmed in Detroit and that it portrays a more realistic image of Arab-Americans, Detroit Unleaded is nicely done, with genuine humor.

Roula will surely one day make Hollywood films. I look forward to watching her career move in that direction.

For more information about the film, visit http://www.detroitunleaded.com/
To watch the trailer, click here http://www.detroitunleaded.com/trailer.html