Jan 08, 2022
15 mins read
Imagine, if you will, a minion. He starts speaking to a German man. A passerby looks at the minion and says, “Wow! That minion can speak German!”
You might be asking yourself why I wanted you to imagine this stupid scenario. Clearly the minion is not speaking German, he's speaking gibberish. Because he is a minion. Well, this was the only way I could describe how it felt to watch the first episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Anthony Mackie can’t speak Arabic.
He really can’t. I don’t even know where to start with this.
In the first episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Sam Wilson supposedly speaks Arabic to a local Tunisian. Here are my thoughts on the matter as a local Tunisian myself.
Lets forget the dialogue for a second and focus on the setting. Why in the world is he fixing his drone in public? Being that I’m from Tunis, and have been there many times, I know for a fact that all of his equipment would have been stolen the moment he took them out. You know what, if he did this in any big city it would have already been stolen, let alone in an Arab one!
And you know what. I really didn’t care about that part because it doesn't really matter. So what if the tech didn’t get stolen, maybe people didn’t want to mess with him because they know he is an Avenger. I was okay with that. I was okay.
Then… They made poor Anthony Mackie open his mouth.
I like Anthony Mackie. I like him as both the Falcon and as Captain America. He is a good actor. But no dialect coach could have prepared him for what was to come.
[This is where I would share the scene but I can't find it on the internet :( Just watch the first episode and you'll know what I'm taking about.]
Ohhh boy, that was really rough. Remember my minion example from earlier. Yeah that's how I feel about this scene.
Sam Wilson is not speaking Arabic here. I’m not really sure if he is speaking a language at all. The other guy he was talking to knew words, but didn’t know how to correctly put them in a sentence. He was speaking the Tunisian dialect, but he jumbled the words like google translate does when you translate something too much. The extra says “be3achik barsha”, which would translate to “you thanks very” in English.
[In (I’ll call it) classical Arabic, when you want to thank someone you say “Shukran” but because there are so many dialects and accents in the Arab world, there are many different ways to say thank you. In Tunisia, we say “3achek” literally meaning, “I hope you live long”. “Barsha” meaning “a lot” is also not a word used by a lot of non- Tunisian Arabic speakers. Just a little fun fact :)]
So when the supposed city-dwelling Tunisian man who is dressed in nomad gear said, “you thanks very.” and Sam Wilson replied with minion speak, something broke in my brain. All the years of watching Hollywood mess up my culture over and over again must have taken a toll on me.
I think the stick that broke the camel's back was when Sam’s military friend says, “And he speaks Arabic too, what can’t you do?”. This guy, who by the way, looks more Tunisian than the entire scene put together, is telling me Sam Wilson can speak Arabic. The writers really thought putting subtitles under Anthony Mackie speaking gibberish would convince me that he knows a dialect that is hard for actual Arabs to understand, let alone an American from LOUSIANA!!!!!!!
Look, I’m not saying Americans can’t speak Arabic. I’ve met many who understand it better than I do. I just want this to stop. Clearly whoever was in charge did not care enough about this scene to get it right. And Hollywood has done this so many times, not just with my culture and language either. It just hit harder when they displayed the same level of disrespect to my country of origin. Anyway, until next time, I’ll see you guys in the next video…
[Wait, Marvel did what? WHEN? IN 2008? FUDGE CRACKERS]
Iron Man 1 can speak Arabic, why can’t the rest of Marvel.
You thought this would be over. But it isn’t.
In 2008, Iron Man was released. Tony Stark, a genius billionaire playboy, gets kidnapped by terrorists and is forced to create a super weapon. When the terrorists give their hostage his task, they speak to him in Arabic. Yinsen translates for Tony.
[This is where I would share the scene but I can't find it on the internet :(]
I love this scene for a lot of reasons. One, the guy who is speaking Arabic is actually speaking Arabic. In fact, he is speaking in formal Arabic.
As I explained earlier, there are a lot of dialects that are spoken in the Arab world. But there is a main dialect that we use so that we can all understand each other. It's used to convey the news, write most books, and all Arabic classes teach formal Arabic. In a social setting, you usually use the local dialect to speak with others. Whenever you are in a business setting, you use classical Arabic to speak.
This terrorist uses formal Arabic to convey that he is simply a businessman making a business deal with the “great Tony Stark”. He’s speaking like he’s not a petty terrorist willing to kill people to get what he wants. This little character quirk tells me everything I need to know about this guy, and this was done knowing that most of the audience wouldn’t understand what he was saying. Someone on the production of Iron Man 1 clearly cared enough about this extra to convey his narcissism through use of his dialect alone.
My question is… where did this person go? Because he clearly isn’t on any other production that takes place in the Arab world. Hmm… It’s like I’m setting up the next section of the video.
Hallie Berry can’t speak Arabic; but her dogs can.
In John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum, Hallie Berry plays a jaded assassin who owes Mr. Wick a debt. She helps him get out of a sticky situation using a gun and two very ferocious dogs. The dogs were so vicious in fact, that she had to train with them six months before shooting any scenes on the film, so that they wouldn’t eat her face on set. Even Keanue was warned not to get close to them.
The scene with Hallie Berry was set in Morocco. Now, I didn’t think Hallie Berry’s character was from Morocco. I thought she was just another assassin in this world that happened to live there. It was only when she attempted to say “Heya” which means “lets go” to her dog, that me and my sisters audibly laughed. It was Anthony Mackie all over again, but at least they had the sense to make her say only two words to her dogs. I can at least understand her when she says “hujum” [meaning attack] but I just…
Now granted I don’t know how much time she spent practicing her Arabic, but if I can’t understand her when she is trying to say the simplest of Arabic phrases, it shows just how much they didn’t focus on that aspect of her character. She spent six months training with those dogs. Six months. They couldn’t spend more than a week coaching her on her character's native language?
Usually these things don’t bother me. Me and my sisters laughed about it in the theater when we watched that amazingly well done action set piece. Why would the production team set that as a priority? In their eyes, there were many other things that needed to be focused on. Like the vicious dogs.
And I get that. But how long can you feign ignorance of a culture you want to represent in your story? Hmm, I’m doing it again, I’m setting up the next section of the video. Did I catch something?
Aladdin remake is a bad Bollywood movie
I actually didn’t hate this movie. Will Smith is definitely the highlight. Everything else is kinda... How do I explain it? This isn’t an Arabian tale.
The Aladdin remake is more like… a really bad Bollywood movie. Yeah that's how I would describe it. There are big set pieces. It’s a comedy romance. There are slow motion action scenes. It has long unnecessary dancing and singing sections. There are tigers. Uhhh, the female lead doesn’t have a lot to do.
I feel like the people who made this forgot it was made with Arabia in mind. Like the animated movie actually looks and feels like it’s in the middle of Arabia. The set pieces in the live action are filled with flowers? (like you're in the middle of the desert where did you get those from?). The Sultan actually says “praise Allah” in the animated version which is something we actually say in our culture. I don’t think anyone speaks any Arabic in the live action version. I might be wrong. I watched it when it came out and didn’t want to re-watch it for this. It’s not that great.
Yeah I don’t have a lot to say about this one, for some reason they made it into a Bollywood movie. Maybe they thought Arabia was secretly in India? I don’t know.
Isn’t it weird that the animated movie is more culturally accurate then the live action one. The cartoon movie featuring Robin Williams made in, let me check my notes here, 1992, is more accurate at representing my culture then the serious live action featuring Will Smith made in 2019.
Who Gets it Right?
I’m tired of showing the countless examples of Arab culture being butchered in movies, so I’m going to go through a quick list of things that actually do it correctly. Okay let's see we got uhhh...
Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic
We also have...
Amazon’s Jack Ryan Season 1 specifically
And last but not least we have...
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders
Two of those were Japanese Anime, and the third one had Jack Ryan fighting Arab terrorists. So, this is twice now that we have been portrayed correctly as terrorists. Yay?! [John Stewart Yay?!]
Sebastian Stan understands Japanese
There is a scene in the Falcon and the Winter Soldier where Bucky speaks to a Japanese veteran. The old man has a monologue where he laments his son's death, wishing he knew how he died. He does the whole monologue in Japanese, and having watched anime subbed for most of my life, it actually sounds accurate. This lovely scene happens in the first episode. The same episode that had the scene that prompted me to make this video.
I just don’t understand why so much thought and care went to this side character and not to other side characters. Is it because we are Arab? I refuse to believe that because Marvel, and a small amount of other media have done it right before. What's different between then and now? Why is it that the only time Arabs are portrayed correctly is when we are terrorists? Why add these locations and characters from these countries only to disrespect them? Every time I see something like this in the media I think about these questions over and over again.
I mean, America is portrayed accurately in most Arab media that I’ve watched.
Ustad Ramadan is an Egyptian movie about an Arabic teacher who moves to the city and has to discipline problem children that have been heavily influenced by British and American media. When students speak English in that it doesn’t sound like gibberish, it sounds like English.
Bittersweet is another Egyptian movie about an American Egyptian visiting Egypt for the first time on his own. Our main character also speaks a lot of English because he was born and raised in the states. [Unlike Hallie Berries Dogs]
Al Rawaibia School for Girls is a Netflix show about how bullying can come to haunt you later in life. These girls have rooms filled with posters of bands and movies from all over the world (mostly South Korea and the U.S) and once again when they speak English it doesn't sound like gibberish.
More importantly, they understand the cultures that they are taking influence from. They reference movies, books, and phrases that are from another culture and don’t butcher it. I wish a larger percentage of American movies could do the same. And if they can’t put in the same effort as Egyptian movies, then I hope they stay as far away from Arab culture as they can.
Imma rewrite that scene from Falcon.
Because military buddy looks like he's about to buy some quthia for his Khalto because she ran out of kubsa and tmotem and philiphil and needs to make sheksooka before her family gets home, we are going to make him the local Tunisian. [I just looked it up and his character's name is Joaquín Torres… he could totally be Tunisian… Right?]
Instead of the Tunisian man coming to thank Sam, he comes chastising him for touching his daughter getting her to safety. His daughter tries to calm him down but it's not working. Sam doesn’t know what's going on [BECAUSE HE DOESN'T KNOW ARABIC] and it’s up to Mr. Torres to resolve the situation. Here's how I would write it...
Father (speaking in Tunisian): YOU! HOW DARE YOU TOUCH MY DAUGHTER!
Daughter (also speaking in Tunisian): Baba, that man saved my life! Stop yelling at him in front of people like that!
Sam Wilson is confused. He knew he saved this mans daughter, and didn't understand why he was being yelled at. Tunisian wasn't a dialect covered in his training.
Torres (speaking in Tunisian): Sir, I would not recommend yelling at an Avenger in public.
Father: So it looks like you understand me. Are you from outside the country.
Torres: My mother is from Nabel (a county in Tunisia) sir.
Father: Why the hell are you arguing with your fellow man, defending this American. He took my daughter flying through the sky the other day!
Father: What are the American's even doing here? Didn't their stupid captain die! Haven't they had enough of killing our people and taking our land? Why are they still here?
Torres stands at eye-level to the angered father. There is anger in this next line.
Torres: I suggest you shut your mouth sir. The man your badmouthing gave his life saving the world, not just America. And Mr. Wilson here saved your daughters life from a car crash if I remember correctly. Thank your lord that your daughter was saved, instead of wasting your breath yelling at the man who saved her.
There is a defining silence throughout the air. The father spits at the floor near Sam and walks away cursing him in the process. The daughter follows slowly.
Sam: What was that about?
Torres: sighs Nothing sir. Just... nothing.
Torres sits back down. Sam goes back to fixing his drone.
Sam: That wasn't normal Arabic you were speaking, was it? When did you learn the local dialect.
Torres: I grew up with it sir. I'm Tunisian on my mothers side. I spent my summers growing up here.
Sam: chukled Mexican and Tunisian. That is one crazy combo.
Torres: Your telling me sir?
The daughter from earlier comes running back. She looks at Sam and says the following in Arabic.
Daughter: THANK YOU CAPTAIN FALCON!
She runs back to her screaming father.
Sam: What was that about?
Torres: laughs I don't think anyone has ever gotten your name right. Ever thought about changing it?
In this context, we have the opposite happen. Instead of giving Sam abilities he clearly doesn’t have, we can flesh out our new side character. We learn more about Torres, and Sam is humbled a little bit. This also sets up the themes and plots that would be explored in the show. Like how the world sees American interference in international affairs (not favorable), or how superheroes actions could be seen as destructive. The most important thing this rewrite does is get the culture it is representing right. Tunisians are hot headed and are filled with pride. When their daughters are involved in any situation they are gonna get protective and blame the guy who survived the encounter. That's just how we be.