"Beirut The Movie" and The Endless Story of Discursive Narratives

January 18, 2018

The new movie “Beirut” is not only an affront against the Lebanese people. It feeds the discursive narrative regarding the Middle East. This article shines a light on the one dimensional perceptions towards Arab regions - in hope for more diverse storytelling.


Let’s say, it is a day as any other. The streets may be set under a steamy fog of rain and dust, while I try to find my way through the crowds. Cars are eventually passing by, while honking and construction works fill the background with the fitting rhythms following my steps to the next co-working space. The air smells of big city atmosphere and I feel comfort; Comfort from the reflections of different faces that cross my path and the familiar places, I have been passing each morning on my way to somewhere - or nowhere. My heart beats with the ones next to me, people like you and me.


This is Beirut to me


It is a city as any other, in a country that has so much to offer. However, following the narrative of common series and movies, one may get the impression of Beirut or Lebanon in total being a country that finds itself in a history of “2000 years of revenge, vendetta, murder […]”. Well, the country might offer the perfect setting for dramatic storytelling, due to the Civil War from 1975 to 1990. But so does any other country within Europe, the United States or somewhere else in the world. It is, however, not the whole story that needs to be told.

And yet another stereotypical Middle East thriller


After watching the trailer of the new movie Beirut directed by Brad Anderson which screens on April 13th, the words built bricks in my throat. And they stayed there content and on fire. My first thought whatsoever was: Not again a stereotypical Middle East thriller. While watching the trailer of Beirut, whose main character is being played by John Hamm (We all have heard of Mad Man. What a mad man!) and Rosamund Pike (Gone girl, where have you gone?), I was virtually disgusted for different and obvious reasons.


First of all, the story takes place in Beirut in the 1980s, but not one scene of the movie was shot in Beirut itself. Further, we find ourselves in the position, following a white man from the US on his CIA mission in a heroic manner with the help of Israeli forces. But on top of it all, the fact that the movie will be screened on the day, on which the civil war began about 43 years ago, seems to be especially absurd. This is one perspective, not well narrated, and totally taken out of context. The movie has already been criticized by different features regarding its cast white-washing and the misrepresentation of Lebanon. But let’s face it; this is not the first and probably not the last misdirected Western perspective of media spotlight on the Middle East.


 Courtesy of Bleeker Street


There is more than just one story that needs to be told


Now, one may ask, what right do I have as a European, as a German to judge over the Western perspective on Lebanon. I for myself, find it very important to shine a light on the frustrating image that gets painted of a region, of a country which I as a foreigner have gotten to known to be one of the few places that offer a great variety of different stories that need to be told. The variety can be seen in the period of the Phoenicians, over to the Ottoman Empire to its declaration of independence from the French Mandate until today.


We all remember Homeland and many other stories that have put the Middle East in a setting of sad, dark and brutal perspectives. But where did it all start?


Shining a light on the 19th century and even earlier one can already find photographs, images and stories of the Orient have been put out of context, as stereotypical visualizations of static time and space. And what started with the stories written by Constantin-Chassebeuf Volney (Voyage en Egypte et en Syrie, 1787) or Francois-René de Chateaubriand (Itinéraire de Paris à Jérusalem, 1811) has definitely not reached the end yet of a discursive narrative regarding the Middle East. Since the 18th Century, this ongoing form of storytelling has left marks; Because each story that has been told, each article that has been read, and every news feature that has been listened to leaves traces within a discourse that is neither appropriated nor fair to people of a whole region that contains many stories.


Therefore, I ask for setting perspectives into context, and starting to tell stories towards the Middle East in a complex and fair manner. Images that are being transported can be so much more than clichés and stereotyping. We all know the term self-fulfilling prophecies, and the impact of the images we paint regarding ourselves and others. Therefore, let’s start telling stories that include, not exclude; that draw fine lines, not thick barriers; and stories that create interest more than ignorance.


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