The mark that 9/11 left on Hollywood and American culture

The mark that 9/11 left on Hollywood and American culture
Mourners gather at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York on September 11, 2020, as the US commemorates the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. (File/AFP)
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Updated 11 September 2021

The mark that 9/11 left on Hollywood and American culture

The mark that 9/11 left on Hollywood and American culture
  • Through TV screens came grim images of the Al-Qaeda assault that would be echoed in films and TV shows
  • Films that portrayed real events surrounding 9/11 and the subsequent wars were often met with disinterest

DUBAI: Through a television screen slightly past 9 a.m. on the east coast of the US on a Tuesday morning, Americans received perhaps their greatest trauma. It was then that the second plane crashed through Twin Towers in New York City, a moment embedded in the public consciousness ever after, a moment that would shape culture in all its facets.

Through those television screens, other grim images that would be echoed in film and culture followed. There was the falling man, leaping from the building to escape the smoke and flames.




General view of the World Trade Center memorial in New York City on February 26, 2021. (File/AFP)

There were the falling towers themselves, collapsing in on themselves as if from grief. There was the billowing smoke and debris that pervaded lower Manhattan, the grey ashes that clung to everything — the streets, police cars, even the survivors themselves.

Part of the reason that these images linger so strongly, and part of the reason that those wounds have never fully healed, is the lack of reason, of resolution, of narrative embedded within them. No matter how many questions that the horrible events of 9/11 raised, there were no easy explanations to be found on that day, nor satisfying ones in the days after.




Kristina Hollywood and her daughter Allyson attend a candlelight vigil for 9/11 victims at a memorial site following the death of Osama bin Laden May 2, 2011. (File/AFP)

Answers were what Americans needed. Answers are what pop culture provided them. More than anything else, the key to success in the world of film and television is how well the work provided the right framework for thought, often the more comforting the better.

In the months following the attacks, the most popular films provided those answers most satisfyingly, if more generally. Audiences flocked to the opening screenings of “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” finding solace in a world in which good and evil are clearly defined, at clear odds, and in which the purity of spirit of the good side can overcome all. They found that in the first Harry Potter film, too, “The Sorcerer’s Stone,” in which love and unity can overcome a malevolent, secretly invasive force.




The family of Flight 93 victim C.C. Lyle arrives at the premiere of "United 93" during the Fifth Annual Tribeca Film Festival at the Ziegfeld Theatre April 25, 2006 in New York City. (File/AFP)

Applying that narrative back to the real world, however, is when America’s need for answers brought out its darkest impulses. Some in America, including those at the very top, quickly defined the true evil as the Arab and Muslim other, a narrative that was not born on the morning of 9/11, merely refocused and sharpened.

In the wake of that fateful day, across the country, Arabs were targeted in hate crimes and Islamophobia became practically acceptable mainstream discourse. America’s need for a real-world inspired villain on screen led the ascent of the Muslim terrorist, including in popular television shows such as “24” and “Homeland.”

Nuance and subjective perspective were stripped from most characters from the region, a trend that continues to this day across many films and TV, as “London Has Fallen” and the Jack Ryan films repeat the same tropes with only cosmetic enhancements.

For Arab actors, the post-9/11 world became a land of both opportunity and heartbreak. A sequence in the 2008 film “AmericanEast,” directed by Egyptian-American filmmaker Hesham Issawi, plainly portrayed that experience.

In the film, which depicts various Arab immigrants trying to assimilate into American culture, a character named Omar is finding nascent success as an actor. His most successful role to date was that of a Muslim extremist terrorizing the US, and his hopes that he can transform that success into a wide range of roles are quickly crushed.




Janice Ryan points as she finds her friend's name at the World Trade Center memorial in New York City on February 26, 2021. (File/AFP)

In one scene, Omar is cast for a leading role in a network TV drama as a doctor that incidentally happens to be Muslim. When he arrives on set, however, he finds the role has been cut, and he has been recast as a Muslim terrorist. When he tries to find the humanity in the character, the exasperated filmmakers tell him: “He’s a terrorist. He’s full of hate. That’s all you have to play.”

Unfairly, Omar is forced to choose between following his dream, and dehumanizing himself and his people, a choice many real actors made in more desperate circumstances. Worse still, Arabs both in the US and abroad have not found their faces reflected in the media, which continues to portray characters that lack values and basic three-dimensional humanity.




Members of the U.S. Coast Guard honor veterans killed in the attacks on September 11 at the memorial at Ground Zero on Veterans Day on November 11, 2020 in New York City. (File/AFP)

In those same years, the films that portrayed real events surrounding 9/11 and the wars that were started in its name were often met with disinterest. Even when a film about the war in Iraq won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2009, Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker,” it was the lowest-grossing film to ever receive that honor, signaling that even the film world’s most prestigious prize was not enough to imbue reflection on those events into the cultural psyche.

What the world needed was not more questions; it was crying out for answers. And if there is any truism that film fans can rely on, it is that a hero can provide all of the answers.

It was the idea of unbridled heroism that led Jack Bauer in “24” to become a cultural icon on television in the early 2000s, allowing people to enjoy a show that depicts events similar to those of 9/11 because at the center was a man who had it all figured out, knew why it was happening and how he would stop it.

More significantly, the post-9/11 film landscape saw the ascent of the superhero genre, which had failed to truly take hold in the past outside of Superman and Batman, but starting with 2002’s “Spider-Man,” became the dominant genre of the medium, a distinction it still holds.

Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” films and Zack Snyder’s “Superman” films took the direct imagery of that tragic Tuesday morning — the smoke, the collapsing buildings, the falling men — and used that to make it feel as if these larger-than-life heroes were saving the world as it really was, the one we lived through, not the fantastical one we had seen in the past.

Then, dwarfing them all, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was born, and there the unresolved narrative needs of the American public were focused most greatly.

In “Captain America,” a yearning for a clear understanding of American good was fulfilled, an embodiment of innocence forced to contend with a darker age. In “Iron Man,” American ingenuity overcomes Muslim extremism.

FASTFACT

* Netflix is airing a 5-part series, Turning Point, which documents the 9/11 terrorist attacks, from Al-Qaeda’s roots in the 1980s to America’s response, both at home and abroad.

And in the “Avengers,” 9/11 itself was seemingly re-enacted by an alien force, the only solution to which was not the grass-roots unity of the American people toward a common goal, but the reliance on heroes to do that work for us.

America found real-life heroes to put on the screen too. US Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle was depicted in Clint Eastwood’s 2014 film “American Sniper,” which became the highest-grossing film of that year, and the highest-grossing war film of all time.

“American Sniper” got rid of the nuance that had plagued the “war on terror” films for over a decade and replaced it with a character who had the sure-headedness of a Marvel hero, the clear understanding that he was a good guy who was killing bad guys, who had never done an unjustifiable act.

It was intoxicating for many audiences, who chose to look past the fact that Kyle was not the “Captain America” one might have hoped but instead idolized the Marvel hero “The Punisher,” a monstrous vigilante whose iconography is popular among US special forces. Because of that, as the dust settled, the film has a more controversial legacy than its initial praise suggested.




A US flag hangs from Oculus at the World Trade Center Transportation Hub for the Memorial Day weekend in New York city on May 29, 2021. (File/AFP)

It is not all grim, of course. American cinema has been at its best when it extends its gaze internally more critically, and outside its borders with more compassion.

Arab and Muslim films and performers have gained prominence in award shows, and TV series such as “Ramy” have themselves depicted 9/11 from the perspective of Arab Americans who suddenly found themselves otherized.

The push and pull that existed in the creative community for the last two decades seems finally to be leaning more toward an answer that perhaps should have been found in the direct aftermath: That peace, coexistence, and a recognition of common humanity are what overcome acts of evil, and broadly labelling an enemy as an entire culture only creates more to contend with.

Twitter: @whmullally


Greece to make vaccinations for persons over 60 mandatory-PM

Greece to make vaccinations for persons over 60 mandatory-PM
Updated 5 sec ago

Greece to make vaccinations for persons over 60 mandatory-PM

Greece to make vaccinations for persons over 60 mandatory-PM
ATHENS: Greece on Tuesday said it would fine people over the age of 60 who have not received a first COVID-19 shot, as the country grappled with a new surge in coronavirus cases.
Authorities said they would impose a 100 euro fine on every individual over the age of 60 who was not vaccinated. The measure would apply each month from January 16 onwards.

The third Japan-Jordan Politico-Military dialogue held online

The third Japan-Jordan Politico-Military dialogue held online
Updated 16 min 1 sec ago

The third Japan-Jordan Politico-Military dialogue held online

The third Japan-Jordan Politico-Military dialogue held online

TOKYO: The third Japan-Jordan Politico-Military dialogue was held via video conference on Monday, the foreign ministry said.

The Japanese delegation was led by Kansuke Nagaoka, director general of the Middle Eastern and African Affairs Bureau in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Yasushi Noguchi, director general for International Affairs of the Bureau of Defense Policy in the Ministry of Defense.

The Jordanian delegation was led by Adli Qasem Alkhaledi, director of Asia and Oceania Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and Brigadier General Yousef Alkhatib, assistant of the chief of staff for planning, organization and defense resources.

The delegations exchanged views on a wide-ranging number of issues, including Japan-Jordan security cooperation and regional situations.

This story was originally published in Japanese on Arab News Japan


Citing debris risk, NASA delays spacewalk to fix space station antenna

Citing debris risk, NASA delays spacewalk to fix space station antenna
Updated 56 min 23 sec ago

Citing debris risk, NASA delays spacewalk to fix space station antenna

Citing debris risk, NASA delays spacewalk to fix space station antenna
  • Two US astronauts had been scheduled to venture outside the space station at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time (1210 GMT) to begin their work
  • It was not made clear how close debris had come to the space station, orbiting about 250 miles (402 km) above the Earth, or whether it was related to the Russian missile test

A spacewalk planned for Tuesday to repair a faulty antenna on the International Space Station was postponed indefinitely, NASA said, citing a “debris notification” it received for the orbiting research laboratory.
Two US astronauts had been scheduled to venture outside the space station at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time (1210 GMT) to begin their work, facing what NASA officials had called a slightly elevated risk posed by debris from a Russian anti-satellite missile test this month.
But about five hours before the outing was to have commenced, NASA said on Twitter that the spacewalk had been called off for the time being.
“NASA received a debris notification for the space station. Due to the lack of opportunity to properly assess the risk it could pose to the astronauts, teams have decided to delay the Nov. 30 spacewalk until more information is available,” the space agency tweeted.
It was not made clear how close debris had come to the space station, orbiting about 250 miles (402 km) above the Earth, or whether it was related to the Russian missile test.
NASA TV had planned to provide live coverage of the 6-1/2-hour “extravehicular activity,” or EVA, operation by astronauts Thomas Marshburn and Kayla Brown. The outing would be the fifth spacewalk for Marshburn, 61, a medical doctor and former flight surgeon with two previous trips to orbit, and the first for Barron, 34, a US Navy submarine officer and nuclear engineer on her debut spaceflight for NASA.
The objective is to remove a faulty S-band radio communications antenna assembly, now more than 20 years old, and replace it with a new spare stowed outside the space station.
According to plans, Marshburn was to have worked with Barron while positioned at the end of a robotic arm operated from inside the station by German astronaut Matthias Maurer of the European Space Agency, with help from NASA crewmate Raja Chari.
The four arrived at the space station Nov. 11 in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, joining two Russian cosmonauts and a NASA astronaut already aboard the orbiting outpost.
Four days later, an anti-satellite missile test conducted without warning by Russia generated a debris field in low-Earth orbit, and all seven crew members took shelter in their docked spaceships to allow for a quick getaway until the immediate danger passed, according to NASA.
The residual debris cloud from the blasted satellite has dispersed since then, according to Dana Weigel, NASA deputy manager of the International Space Station (ISS) program.
But NASA calculates that remaining fragments continued to pose a “slightly elevated” background risk to the space station as a whole, and a 7 percent higher risk of spacewalkers’ suits being punctured, as compared to before Russia’s missile test, Weigel told reporters on Monday.
Although NASA has yet to fully quantify additional hazards posed by more than 1,700 larger fragments it is tracking around the station’s orbit, the 7 percent higher risk to spacewalkers falls “well within” fluctuations previously seen in “the natural environment,” Weigel said.
Still, mission managers canceled several smaller maintenance tasks under consideration for Tuesday’s spacewalk, Weigel added.


Japan and Palestine confirm grant deal worth more than $9m

Japan and Palestine confirm grant deal worth more than $9m
Updated 30 November 2021

Japan and Palestine confirm grant deal worth more than $9m

Japan and Palestine confirm grant deal worth more than $9m

TOKYO: Japan signed an agreement to provide Palestine with 1 billion yen (approximately $9.17 million) based on an “economic and social development plan”, the foreign ministry in Tokyo said.

The agreement was reached on Nov. 28 and signed by Masayuki Magoshi, ambassador for Palestinian affairs and representative of Japan to Palestine, and Palestinian Minister of Finance Shukri Bishara, who also exchanged a letter regarding the grant.

“This cooperation is intended to contribute to the promotion of economic and social development efforts of the Palestinian Authority and will be used to procure fuel as a necessary material in the Palestinian Authority,” Magoshi said. 

“It is hoped that this will improve the severe financial situation of the Palestinian Authority and contribute to the promotion of efforts to stabilize economic activities and civil affairs,” Magoshi added.

In the Palestinian Autonomous Region, the Gaza Strip suffered widespread damage in May this year due to conflict and the socio-economic situation of Palestine continues to be severe. 

“Under these circumstances, it is indispensable to support the efforts of the Palestinian Authority for economic and social development and to stabilize and develop Palestinian civil society in order to foster the momentum for achieving peace in the Middle East,” Magoshi said.

This story was originally published in Japanese on Arab News Japan


Migrant crisis front and center in pope’s Greece-Cyprus trip

Migrant crisis front and center in pope’s Greece-Cyprus trip
Updated 30 November 2021

Migrant crisis front and center in pope’s Greece-Cyprus trip

Migrant crisis front and center in pope’s Greece-Cyprus trip
  • Francis will first stop in Cyprus, a country in the Mediterranean that is coping with a rise in refugees so significant that the government is seeking to stop processing asylum claims
  • Greece continues to host large numbers of asylum-seekers while failing to protect their rights

LESBOS, Greece: When Pope Francis visited the Greek island of Lesbos in 2016, he was so moved by the stories he heard from families fleeing war in Iraq and Syria that he wept and brought a dozen refugees home with him.
Speaking to reporters on the way home that day, he held up a drawing handed to him by a child from the island’s sprawling refugee camp.
“Look at this one,” he said, revealing a bird neatly decorated in colored pencil, the word “peace” scrolled in English underneath it. “That’s what children want: Peace.”
Francis is returning to Lesbos this week for the first time since that defining day of his papacy, making a repeat visit to the island where hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants have passed through on their journey to Europe.
But he will find attitudes toward migrants here have only hardened in the intervening five years, as they have elsewhere in Europe, with tensions flaring on the border between European Union country Poland and Belarus and more deadly crossings — most recently in the English Channel.
Francis will first stop in Cyprus, another predominantly Orthodox Christian country in the Mediterranean that is also coping with a rise in refugees so significant that the government is seeking to stop processing asylum claims. As he did in Lesbos five years ago, Francis has arranged for several would-be refugees in Cyprus to travel to Italy after his visit, Cypriot officials say.
“They are our brothers and sisters,” Francis said in a video message to Greek and Cypriot faithful before the trip. “How many have lost their lives at sea! Today our sea, the Mediterranean, is a great cemetery.”
The pontiff starts his five-day trip on Thursday in Cyprus before heading to Greece on Saturday. He returns home on Monday.
While Francis’ renewed messages of compassion and welcome for migrants isn’t quite resonating in European capitals, they are a welcome salvo for the migrants themselves.
“His presence here will strengthen us, spiritually, and give us hope, some comfort,” said Christian Tango Muyaka, a 30-year-old asylum-seeker from Congo who is due to participate in a Sunday service with the pope at a new migrant camp on Lesbos.
“It gives us faith, it strengthens our faith,” he said.
Muyaka was separated from his wife and youngest daughter a year ago on the Turkish coast when they scrambled to board a boat bound for Greece. He has had no news of what happened to them since.
The north coast of Lesbos, just 10 kilometers (six miles) from Turkey, served as the main landing point for boats crossing into Europe during the 2015-16 migration crisis.
Piles of discarded orange life vests covered beaches, local fishermen helped daily rescue operations, and island residents took pride in setting up campaigns to provide hundreds of refugees arriving daily with food and clothing.
Fast forward five years, and the welcome mat is gone.
Migrants reaching the eastern Greek islands are now being held in detention camps, newly built and funded by the EU. Coast guard patrols are instructed to intercept dinghies and boats heading west and send them back to Turkey.
The overcrowded camp on Lesbos that Francis was taken to in 2016 burnt to the ground last year during protests against pandemic restrictions.
And along Greece’s land border with Turkey, a new steel wall and hi-tech sensor network have been installed to stop illegal crossings.
Eva Cosse at Human Rights Watch said Francis’ visit will serve as an urgent reminder of the human nature of the crisis.
“At a time when people are suffering and their rights are threatened, having the pope standing up for them and expressing these concerns is more important than ever,” she told The Associated Press. “Since the pope’s last visit, Greece continues to host large numbers of asylum-seekers while failing to protect their rights.
“Thousands seeking refuge in Greece are violently pushed back to Turkey. Migrant children face homelessness and a lack of access to health care, education and food. And nongovernmental groups face legislative restrictions and criminal harassment by officials.”
Greek authorities deny allegations of summary deportations. They argue that tougher border policing is necessary to counter hostility by several EU neighbors accused of exploiting the crisis and to limit arrival numbers to manageable levels.
“(Francis’) message is that we are one world, that we don’t have borders, that everybody is a child of God. Look, this is the religious point of view,” said Dimitris Vafeas, the deputy director of Mavrovouni migrant camp on Lesbos where the pope will visit.
“In practical terms, I think Greece has delivered ... so I think (Francis) will see calm faces. I don’t dare say happy faces, but calm for sure.”