Why did Warner Independent Pictures pick up Albert Brooks' "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World"?
"We saw the movie, and it was clear that Albert makes fun of himself and America, not anybody else," CEO Mark Gill told L.A. Times entertainment columnist Patrick Goldstein.
As long as it made fun of the right people, Warner wasn't afraid to release a film with "Muslim" in the title that was largely set in 80-percent Hindu India. Apparently, though, they were afraid to market it: "Looking for Comedy" closed as a colossal flop, not even clearing $1 million with an estimated $25 million production budget. We call that a bomb.
CAIR called it not funny. "I find the topic and the premise of the movie a bit condescending," said Ahmed Rehab, director of communications at the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Chicago. Not surprising - CAIR has at one time or another hated "True Lies," "Executive Decision," "The Siege," "Rules of Engagement," "Hidalgo," and on and on for portrayals of Muslim or Arab characters. The Fox series "24" portrayed a Muslim terror cell in suburban America, and found itself in CAIR-induced public-service announcement purgatory.
As I said soon after the London bombings on KNX News Radio, it's not an unfair portrayal if there are actually Arabs and Muslims engaging in terrorist acts, and this is certainly not indicative of all Muslims or Arabs.
In the same segment, a CAIR spokeswoman brought up "Not Without My Daughter" as one of those horribly stereotypical films, but who would replace the Iranian dad - and setting - in this true-life tale? "Not Without My Daughter," the Slovenian version!
Alas, Hollywood is viewing CAIR-guarded territory as pretty much off-limits. Fortunately for politically correct casting directors everywhere, there are still a few accepted characters.
First is definitely the British. We're not just talking the stereotype of swinging Austin Powers and his bad teeth here. We're talking rabid imperialists, so en vogue and PC as movie villains! Whether it's locking an entire village inside a church and burning it to the ground in "The Patriot" or raping townspeople in "Braveheart," Tinseltown can show those Brits as baddies! Just try to forget that a Brit-as-hero franchise - namely, James Bond - has raked in $1.2 billion.
Yet if Hollywood is looking for a villain, try the standard, random, nondescript European terrorist who sounds a little bit German (because you can still stereotype them) and a little bit Czech (because they won't get mad). Need chain saw-wielding foreigners who sell backpacking tourists to sadists with dungeons, a la "Hostel"? Try Slovaks! ("I would like to apologise to Slovaks for making them look like maniacs," director Eli Roth told Reuters in an e-mail.)
A safe bet to bear the brunt of nasty plotlines is rural Americans. Not only are set decorators ready to slap a major home appliance on the front lawn and costume designers ripping open packages of $3 Hanes tank tops, the Hollywood community is in awe of a thespian who can step into such a foreign realm by going Okie. It might be the evil backwoods dweller in "Deliverance" or the goofy yokels of "The Beverly Hillbillies" - this may be the most typecast group on the silver screen, though lacking the army of publicists to raise a stink.
But as long as we're talking geography, what about the ditzy portrayal of Californians? We, like, feel totally typecast. Then after "Clueless" and "Legally Blonde" came out, we realized that being stellar shoppers with Sephora on speed dial wasn't the worst stereotype in the world. You can also still mock Canadians, at least if your name is Trey Parker or Matt Stone, depending on how much mileage you can get out of "aboot" jokes.
Thankfully, just as we've run out of acceptable characters, there's a new face on the typecasting couch: The Danish. They lost all PC privileges by refusing to flog 12 cartoonists. Not really sure how you mock a Dane, but neither do the protesters who have stuck to burning flags or effigy stunt-doubles of Bush and Blair.
You may look at the acceptable casting/plotline list for Hollywood today and find it a bit limited in its scope, a bit stifled in creativity, falling short when it comes to reality or believability. But you wouldn't want to offend someone who CAIRs, eh?