An episode of the American TV show “Homeland” is titled “Beirut is Back.” No, it’s not the comeback we’d want: that of the city that is slowly but surely getting back on its feet, it is that of terrorism. Supposedly, the events portrayed were centered around Hezbollah and CIA. The main character was in Beirut to kill a Hezbollah agent who worked with Al Qaeda. That’s enough for me to put the entire things in the realms of fiction. But for your regular American Joe, Hezbollah and Al Qaeda are probably working together. They don’t know that the animosity between both groups is unsurmountable.
The entire episode was shot in Haifa. Because the Israeli city apparently can serve as a dummy for ours. Ila ma ba3da Haifa, anyone? The TV show producers didn’t even bother getting their setting to resemble Beirut – they just went with it. Their audience wouldn’t care.
So over the course of an hour, Homeland turned Beirut, Hamra Street basically, into a terrorist city where foreigners are abducted for just being foreigners, where women wear veils to go out on the streets and where it is very unsafe to basically do anything.
Based on all the above, the Lebanese government has decided to file charges against Homeland. Details can be found here.
My opinion regarding this is two-folds.
On one hand, the portrayal of Hamra Street as a terrorist nest is not only wrong, it’s silly. What I’m beyond certain of is that Hamra is probably the most liberal part of all Beirut. It is where the socialist hipster activists gather every day to try and change the world over many drinks in the Alleyway after their classes at the American University of Beirut (AUB), the country’s leading university. There’s nothing in Hamra that fits in the idea of Homeland’s producers. Except the fact that it’s in their idea of Beirut.
Moreover, the mere idea that they filmed a Beirut-based episode in an Israeli city is an insult. If they put in the effort to drag all their crew all the way to the Middle East, then they may as well have filmed in Beirut and not in Lebanon’s enemy country.
On the other hand, the minister of tourism is worried that this episode would harm tourism by affecting American conceptions of the country. He’s probably right. But what the minister doesn’t know is that for most Americans Beirut is still the war-torn city where a bomb goes off every few minutes and they don’t need Homeland to tell them otherwise. Their mainstream media does a pretty good job at keeping our capital and country with the reputation that we have. I would have liked for a TV show to show Beirut in a good light but the effect would be too limited.
Moreover, it’s not like his government was doing a great job (until recently) at calming the tensions in the streets. Some demented person wants to block the roads with tires? Fine with us. Some family’s military wing wants to kidnap innocent people? You go ahead. Some angry religious people want to torch down a restaurant? Just give us some food first. And even though these are very restricted incidences that only affect a very, very minute portion of the country, it is not the impression others get. We try to explain how we go out every day despite all of these things to foreigners but we may as well be talking to a wall. Our government also wasn’t active against such events until it was too late. Sure, they managed to round up those who did those things later on. And they’ve agreed that they won’t let anyone block roads anymore. But the damage was already done.
However, all in all, I have to agree with the lawsuit on one principle. I don’t care if Homeland wants to trash Beirut and further cement the stereotypes of their targeted audience about my capital… as long as they literally pay up for it. It’s not up to them to change the stereotypes towards Beirut, it’s up to us. Let them come over to Beirut, enjoy the city they are bringing down, portray it as an Al Qaeda zone while the director’s gaze wanders to the nearest cleavage he could find over at Hamra street. And let them pay the hundreds of thousands of dollars in doing so. So while Americans panic over their actors and actresses going to such a place, we’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.
Me and my girlfriend watch Homeland.
We actually paused the scene to talk about the insanity of Abu Nazir meeting Hezbollah people in Beirut. I also felt obligated to my girlfriend to tell her about Hamra street and Beirut. So please keep in mind your view of the Homeland audience has quite some generalizations going on. I am not ignorant of politics nor geography, but I am willing to concede a lot just to get entertained.
I was interested in this episode because I wanted to see which city they used. I expected either Jaffa or Haifa, neither of which are the urban equivalent of Beirut but I did not care. Now regarding my objections I am with you when it comes to stereotypes. I wondered which part of Haifa they took because the city has as many (native) Christians as Muslims and from my experience by far not all the Muslim women dress like that. They must have actively bought a lot of scarfs and handed them out or something. And actually the Muslim and Chrisitan neighborhoods of Haifa are pretty cool.
I see why you think the location is insulting. Often “Middle Eastern” movies are filmed in Morocco or Jordan. Maybe the content wasn’t deemed acceptable enough? Oh and you forgot to mention this is based on an Israeli show, which might explain the location and the stereotypes. They are doing far better than how a few film scenes/series I saw portray Israelis in the Arab world. But apologies for pot calling the kettle black, it’s by no means a justification.
If I were a film maker without knowledge of political sensitivities I’d also use Arab or Lebanese figurants for Jews and vice versa because basically you guys often look similar. Blame nature for that one. One of the famous “Mexican-looking” Western actors came from a Tatar-Muslim family in Poland. But obviously Poland and Mexico are not at war so it’s cool.
I might be prejudiced but I don’t really buy your “let them come over to Beirut” story. Not that they’d get killed or kidnapped (except for those socially tolerant hipster guys who wanted an autograph of Christopher Hitchens, where did that happen btw?, below the belt and out of context I’m sorry).
For some reason I have the feeling it would get picked up these series are based on an Israeli show and some people will protest against them I guess. They probably have plenty of Israeli stamps too because they coordinated some filming with the Israelis.
Don’t get me wrong Elie if I were in your place I wouldn’t like the way Homeland is doing this either. But the thing is I’m not, and I need cheap entertainment from time to time.
By the way, I seriously wonder how many Americans will have the Beirut barracks bombing in their mind. I guess for the less informed it doesn’t matter who did that AlQaida/”Resistance”/Hipsters/Arabs/Muslims/Brownpeople. This episode has a lot of cheap ways to instill fear. Though I doubt that many remember it at all.
Which city do you think they should have picked? Mogadishu?
And I’m supposed to take this how?
The only acceptable city is Beirut. End of story. They want a Haifa story, film in Haifa.
They want a Casablanca story, film in Casablanca.
They want a Mogadishu story, film in Mogadishu.
I meant to say the storyline is so batshyt crazy, would it even be fitting in Beirut? I think I might need to change my style because I am under the impression my brain twists aren’t coming over like I want them, apologies.
The storyline doesn’t need to be fathomable in order to be filmed. How many American movies have you watched and found credible?
Not many. But I know many are filmed on a different location or a wrong location. WW2 movies often have those issues. And it’s beyond annoying.
Usually those that are filmed on different location do so because the original place has tactical problems they can’t overcome – they don’t work on stereotyping the place into something that fits their movie.
1) A generalization, Daniel, does not break down the group being generalized because that would defeat the purpose.
For all matters and purposes, my generalization is correct. Every rule has exceptions and you being one doesn’t make the overall impression in any way less valid.
2) The simple fact that you went below the belt shows that you don’t really know Beirut because every single person who comes here returns with a changed impression. You don’t know that since you’ve never been so I guess you should.
Also I believe there are many other places around the world where “cultural” problems happen occasionally, including many places in Europe but I guess when the Lebanese do it, it takes another form.
3) The supposed idea that they MAY face “trouble” because they have dealings with Israel is out-reaching. We do not give trouble for Americans who have visited Israel and more often than not, Americans have a separate passport for their Israel visits. So the Lebanese authorities wouldn’t have a problem. Moreover, those activists who are BDS supporters are not violent. Therefore, the film makers have nothing to fear. And Beirut is not a violent city, regardless of what you want to think.
4) I’m all for cheap entertainment, as long as it doesn’t come as the expense of my barely there reputation. I could start asking for TV shows that show all Dutch people as a bunch of crackheads who do nothing but smoke weed all the time while they sport around swastikas. Is that true? No. But it doesn’t mean you would accept it one bit.
You need cheap entertainment? Rent a Nicolas Cage movie.
1) I know about generalizations. I’m inclined to agree with your generalizations. But as a viewer of this series I thought my remarks are relevant.
2) You and I both know I don’t know Beirut. Heck I cannot even go there right now until my passport gets renewed. I though’t about deleting the Cristopher Hitchens part, but hey, if you go to Amsterdam you will not get beaten up for tearing down a political poster.
3) I know BDS are not generally violent. Although the opposite has been true and these activists have been found yelling to put Jews in gas chambers over here, but ok, maybe Lebanese version is more rational.
I do not think Beirut is violent. I just mentioned it does in fact have violence.
4) In the last Nicolas Cage movie I saw they used an obviously Jew-sounding name for a rival gun dealer. Stereotypes everywhere.
I wouldn’t care as much for the movie about the Dutch. We are in a much different position here. I am not sure how it would be if our position is the same. Some people advertise Amsterdam because of the hookers and drugs and sure it affects stereotypes of Dutch but once again our situation is different. And the not everybody responds the same way. I think you’d have to push it really far for our government to sue a movie, sporting swastikas is not taking it far enough ;-), but even then I doubt that would be the response. We’re not Kazakhstan (Borat).
1) Then you should know that talking about the show in general means I cannot go into the specifics of every single person watching it. I also spoke about Americans who watch it, not non-Americans, even though Europeans are not really much better based on my interactions with them.
2) What Hitchens was doing was basically taking down a poster for a political party that I hate because he thought the logo was a swastika. The poster had a picture of a fighter in that party who died battling the Israelis. If I were to go to a city I don’t understand who’s at war with another country, odds are I wouldn’t do something as stupid. I am not defending his attackers but I’m saying is that there’s a story to every side. You may get beaten up in some European capital for doing something much less than this or something more. Things like this exist everywhere and there are countless examples of Lebanese expats who have been on the victim’s end of more than one incidence.
3) The Lebanese version of BDS is not rational. It’s just tame.
4) Portraying a Jew as a gun dealer or a rich businessman is different than portraying a whole country as a terrorist place.
5) I think you’d have a change of heart if it had actually happened to you or to something you care about. “Holier than thou” attitudes are always easy to take when the event doesn’t touch you personally.
Well Elie. What I said was we are not in the same situation as you. This has nothing to do with holier-than-thou attitude. My country is not at war, is not bombed, doesn’t have militant groups the size of Hezbollah etc. Maybe if you’d make a movie about Dutchmen being cowards and Nazi helpers in 1946 my government and its people would respond like Lebanon does. Because of the sensitivities. Governments often use national sensitivities to act, just look at a law against Holocaust denial in my country.
No, it is not holier-than-thou. I am convinced we as a people and as a government would not so easily be offended right now because it is not our way of responding (right now). I don’t really see how you saw something negative in that part of my reply.
I know about Hitchens story. Yeah every story got its sides. I shouldn’t have mentioned it.
I knew you were talking about American in audience in general, but I felt the need to reply like I did. I’m sad but not surprised to hear what you said about Europeans you met. Quite frankly I think the label goes for anyone in the world. People’s thoughts and opinions are determined by shallow information or disinformation. Most of them… But without boasting to much I think if you met me you wouldn’t end up thinking I’m THAT ignorant 😉
Exactly. It is because you’re not in the same situation that you don’t get it. My country has problems but we try to deal with them the best we can considering the circumstances. Hezbollah to you may be a terrorist group but for many here, it was the party that defended them. I have problems with Hezbollah but I would defend it before trashing it to someone who doesn’t understand – and that’s what I did in France.
The way to understand this is, as you said, to attack the sensitive issues that the Dutch have. Make a movie about a bunch of Dutchmen saying the holocaust is a farce. Then we might see a reaction.
It’s the same thing. Each country has sensitivities that need to be respected to a certain extent. For Lebanon, it’s the idea of a terrorist state that is always in a state of war. And that’s far from the case.
Regarding Europeans, yeah, the looks I got for being “white” and “un recognizable as something not European” and “Christian” were way too many. The questions about how Christians live over there were also way too many. The question about how I’d go to school under the bombs were also way too many.
Ignorance is everywhere but I expect people in a nearer place to be more in sync with reality, I had thought wrong.
And no, I don’t think you are ignorant just as you shouldn’t think of me as an terrorist-loving, blind zealot.
I got it :p
Well yeah the holocaust denial movie would probably get you sued by the public prosecutors. Fair point. As for the filming locations, it is true that they do it for different reasons than Homeland. Though many 60s and 70s movies had plenty of unacceptable *but understandable) anti-German sentiment.
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I love the show. Seeing the producers’ portrayal of Beirut was really annoying but not surprising at all. Lebanon is only mentioned in movies when the subject is war, chaos, etc… it’s sad but true. The French even have an expression ”C’est Beyrouth!” to describe a really messy situation.
I paused while watching the episode to guess where they had filmed because I was 100% sure it wasn’t in Beirut. I think that it looked more like the old streets in Tripoli. And the airport…akh come on! ours is relatively new! But the location of the US embassy was the funniest: in the middle of the street, almost no security guards, with protesters at the door!! hahaha do they know that the real embassy is a fortress in awkar? that we’re not allowed near it?
But they got 2 things right: the license plates and the fact that there is a hotel Commodore in Hamra.
Just hope next time they’ll make an effort.
Yeah I know the French saying – I’ve heard it way too many times in France this past summer. I do have a problem with it but I can understand why it exists. But we’ve been trying to shake it off for quite some time now and for a TV show to come and reverse hard work with one episode is unacceptable.
It’s exactly as you said – at least make an effort to make it credible for the city, not for the mindset of your viewers.
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I thought they were suing for copyright infringement, that is, Hezbollah had the copyright on the abductions and shootings and they want the Americans to pay for its portrayal…
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