Racism and sexism in ''True Lies''?
Individuals and social groups attack the Arnold Schwarzenegger action comedy
After raking in $62 million in just two weeks, True Lies has eased fears about recouping its reported $120 million budget. But Arnold Schwarzenegger’s actioner is now embroiled in another sort of trouble, a controversy involving charges of racism and sexism.
A loose coalition of Arab-American organizations picketed the film’s mid-July opening in more than 10 cities across the country, protesting its cartoonish depiction of fanatical, kaffiyeh-clad Arab terrorists. The New York City-based National Council on Islamic Affairs and the American-Arab Relations Committee have called for a boycott of the movie and for its outright banning in 54 Arab and Muslim countries. ”This film is truly a bunch of lies,” says Albert Mokhiber, president of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) — the group that persuaded Disney to alter possibly offensive lyrics for Aladdin‘s video release.
As it did with Asian-American groups concerned about racial stereotyping in Rising Sun, the film’s distributor, Twentieth Century Fox, rebuffed Arab-American groups’ early requests to screen the film. Just weeks prior to Lies‘ release, the studio agreed to add a disclaimer — a decision that Fox spokeswoman Andrea Jaffe says ”cost us some money, and required an extra day’s work on the picture.” The disclaimer hasn’t won Fox much goodwill. ”When I stayed to see it,” says ADC spokeswoman Anne Marie Baylouny, ”I was the only one left in the theater.”
The ADC is asking that Schwarzenegger tape a new statement for the Lies‘ video, explaining that the film’s villains do not represent any particular race. ”With the fall of the Soviet empire, Hollywood needs a new enemy; we’ve become a convenient scapegoat,” says Mokhiber. Lies director James Cameron counters, ”I just needed some convenient villains. It could [have been] anybody. I could have picked Irish terrorists.”
Cameron, who was praised for his gun-toting heroines in Aliens and the Terminator films, has also been slammed for Lies‘ attitude toward women, especially in the film’s talked-about strip-tease scene. ”I felt embarrassed for both Jamie Lee Curtis and for her character when I watched her scenes,” says Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan, whose review helped spark a debate over whether the film was misogynistic. ”In the context of an action film, a strong character is in control. She’s being controlled. The audience is laughing at her because she’s being humiliated.” Unlike the Arab-Americans, however, women’s groups have yet to condemn the film. ”We don’t think the intent is to make women look bad,” explains Tammy Bruce, president of the National Organization for Women’s L.A. chapter. ”Compared to the Arabs, women come off relatively well in this one.”
Cameron also dismisses charges of sexism. ”I don’t think every scene in a movie has to present itself as an example of political correctness,” he says, defending the controversial interrogation scene in which a hidden Schwarzenegger bullies wife Curtis into confessing her love for him. ”I’ve had a lot of guys say, ‘I need one of those rooms at my house.’ ”
Given Lies‘ blockbuster potential, occasional denigration may be a small price to pay for Curtis. The actress refused to comment, but her CAA agent, Rick Kurtzman, insists, ”True Lies has been a great vehicle for her.”
And that bottom-line thinking is exactly what worries Lies‘ critics. ”This movie will have far more effect on how people think because it’s being seen by so many people,” says Turan. ”It may be mindless, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t affecting minds.”