Sunday, July 19, 2020

Has Hollywood finally decided to fight “Reel Life Racism”

This article is by

Share this article

Article Contributor(s)

Syed Ahmed Uzair

Article Title

Has Hollywood finally decided to fight “Reel Life Racism”


Global Views 360

Publication Date

July 19, 2020


Al Jolson in Warner Bros. publicity photo for the film The Jazz Singer (1927)

Al Jolson in Warner Bros. publicity photo for the film The Jazz Singer (1927) | Source: Wikimedia

Back in the 1960s, when the Civil Rights Movement was slowly gaining momentum in the United States, broadcasting services were employed to gather support for the movement. Images of various kinds of atrocities and violence being rendered to nonviolent Black demonstrators were broadcasted into American houses to raise awareness about the movement.

However, the response of Hollywood so far can be explained in a single word- tragic! Hollywood as a major media and content producer has massively shaped the American culture. However it has not much to show as a positive influence on race issues.

A classic 1940’s musical movie, Holiday Inn had the famous song in which White stars performed in blackface. In a 1980s hit, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” the Indians are depicted as barbaric and uncivilised. The list of such racial stereotypes is huge to be reproduced here.

Legendary Hollywood actor John Wayne made highly offensive comments in a playboy interview. His exact words are, “I believe in white supremacy until the Blacks are educated to a point of responsibility. I don't believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people.” He further goes on to make a series of comments, that ideally should not be coming from someone with so much influence in Hollywood.

Many legendary actors and industry icons too have struggled due to racism in Hollywood. Bruce Lee is a fine example of a person who fought against racism in the industry and refused to be cast in many roles that portrayed Chinese people in a negative light. He ultimately moved back to Hong Kong, partly due to the lack of appropriate roles. Actress Lucy Liu has also spoken about how she was too naïve to understand back in the early days as to why her friend would get multiple auditions every day, while she managed two or three in a month.

In 2015, there was a massive uproar regarding the Oscar winners after the academy awarded all 20 nominations to white actors. It quickly gained momentum with the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite becoming a global trend. Before #OscarsSoWhite, no one would have bothered to notice that 86% of top films predominantly featured white actors.

As per a Washington Post survey, film directors who ranked as the most influential decision-makers at Hollywood were predominantly whites. Hollywood might stress for newer reforms against racism on the big screen but that is not the reality at all. To put things into perspective, the Hollywood academy has never revealed information about the diversity of its members involved in the branches of the academy, such as writers, directors, etc.

The response of Hollywood movers and shakers was always akin to a tokenism, a call to push for producing more content involving black writers, producers, and actors.

George Floyd’s death was just the trigger it needed to burst out in the open the pent up anger over the centuries of discrimination, oppression, and systematic injustice meted out to black people. The way black people are portrayed in reel life directly impacts society’s attitude towards them in real life.

People started demanding that Hollywood production companies and studios should involve the people from the community in the decision-making process when the movie plot is based considerably on the members of those communities. They have also demanded that older movies depicting racially insensitive narratives should be taken out of circulation.

Disney, one of the most reputed names in Hollywood, chose to remove the movie “Song of the South” from US distribution, when the criticism for the movie grew, even though it remains available for those who know where to look. They have also announced the plan to revamp the famous Splash Mountain ride at Disneyland and Disney World to include the character of Princess Tiana- Disney’s first African American princess from the movie The Princess and the Frog.

UK TV broadcaster Sky has added a disclaimer to approximately a dozen films stating, “This film has outdated attitudes, language and cultural depictions which may cause offence today."

HBO max recently pulled the iconic film, Gone with the wind because of its controversial depiction of black stereotypes. It returned with a four and a half minute introductory video by black scholar Jaqueline Stewart for a better understanding about racism.

Ever since the resurfacing of the playboy interview of John Wayne, students and alumni at USC have been protesting against Wayne’s exhibit at the campus. However, USC has finally decided to remove the exhibit.

All these reforms are a direct result of the audience being more and more aware of racism and prejudice. However, it is Hollywood’s turn to step up and push for bigger reforms. While it would be a challenging and bold endeavor, Hollywood’s global influence makes it imperative for the industry to undergo much-needed reforms.

Support us to bring the world closer

To keep our content accessible we don't charge anything from our readers and rely on donations to continue working. Your support is critical in keeping Global Views 360 independent and helps us to present a well-rounded world view on different international issues for you. Every contribution, however big or small, is valuable for us to keep on delivering in future as well.

Support Us

Share this article

Read More

July 19, 2021 12:00 PM

The Blasphemy Law of Pakistan and its Implications

In Pakistan, Blasphemy results in a capital punishment in majority of cases. It is perhaps considered a crime worse than terrorism. A crucial case in point is the fact that the Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Court gave around 15 years jail term to two close aides of Hafiz Saeed—chief of the terrorist organization—Lashkar-e-Taiba—and mastermind behind 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks—where at least 150 innocent people lost their lives.

Similarly, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi—Lashkar-e-Taiba’s operation commander and another important figure involved in the 2008 Mumbai attack—was sentenced to 15 years in jail period. Not to mention—this happened amidst the international pressure on Pakistan for letting terrorists to function and roam freely within their country.

While something as violent as terrorism is dealt with lenient punishments, there are draconian laws for blasphemy in the country. Moreover, one can be accused of committing blasphemy—doesn’t matter if they did it or not—and might not even face a fair trial.

This article discusses what are the blasphemy laws and what are their implications while looking at some specific cases.

What are Pakistan’s Blasphemy laws?

What's called Blasphemy law today has its origins in the colonial era. The “offences relating to religion” were introduced by British in 1860, and were later expanded in 1927. These were sections 295 and 295-A from the Indian Penal Code. The laws were made to avoid religious disturbances, insult religious beliefs, or intentionally destroy or desecrate a place or an object of worship. Under the 295 and 295-A, the convicted were to be given a jail term from one year to ten years—with or without a fine.

Pakistan ended up inheriting these laws after the partition of India in 1947.

The laws were amended in 1982 and another clause was added which prescribed life imprisonment for desecration of the Quran intentionally. Another clause was added in 1986 to punish blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad through imprisonment for life or death. These clauses, were added under General Zia-ul-Haq’s military regime, in an order to make the laws more “pro-Islam.”

Since then, this law has often been used to persecute people from minority communities—such as the Ahmadiyas, Shias, Christians, and Hindus—they have been accused of blasphemy without much evidence.

Infamous cases and implications of blasphemy in Pakistan

One of the famous cases was of Asia Bibi, which grabbed international attention as well. Asia Noreen—known as Asia Bibi—was a Pakistani Christan and a farm laborer in Punjab province. Her husband, Ashiq Masih, was a brick laborer. A dispute with her Muslim neighbours turned into an accusation of blasphemy—leading to her arrest and imprisoned. There were a lot of protests in Pakistan, demanding death penalty for Asia Bibi.

Two politicians—Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti—who supported and tried to help Asia Bibi, were murdered. Taseer was shot by his own bodyguard named Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri in broad daylight. Qadri was tried and sentenced to death. He was executed in 2016. Mumtaz Qadri became a hero for millions and hardliners praised him as a martyr. He is regarded as a saint and a mausoleum has been built over his grave in his village near Islamabad, where even devotees come to offer prayers.

Asia Bibi was first sentenced to death by a trial court in 2010, however was later acquitted by the Supreme Court in a historic judgement of 2018. In 2019, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled that she was free to leave Pakistan and was given asylum in Canada where she moved along with her family.

Although after a long struggle, Asia Bibi still got justice and was able to start a new life—unfortunately many others didn’t. Many met with Mob Justice.

In 2017, a journalism student at a Pakistani University was lynched to death by fellow students in Mardan—in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The student—Mashal Khan—was a Shia Muslim and was falsely accused of blasphemy. The mob was enraged by a rumour according to which he had promoted the Ahmadi faith on Facebook. In a similar instance, a man named Tahrir Ahmad Naseem was killed by vigilantes in July last year for blasphemy. He was a former Ahmadi, and was in Peshawar Central Jail since 2018 for claiming to be a prophet. He was shot dead inside the courtroom during trial in the Peshawar Judicial Complex.

Furthermore, in a case similar to that of Asia Bibi, a Christian couple—Shahzad and Shama Maseeh—were accused of blasphemy as well. They were then beaten and burned alive by a mob in 2014. Shama was four months pregnant. The mob, which also included a local cleric, believed that the couple had burned some pages of the Quran along with some rubbish, although the couple’s family still denies this. Five people including the cleric were sentenced to death, while the eight others were given two years imprisonment.

Last year, former Foreign and Defense Minister Khawaja Asif as well was accused of blasphemy for merely stating that “all religions are equal.”

Why is this happening?

According to data by Pakistan’s Centre for Social Justice, there have been 1549 known cases of serious blasphemy in the years 1987-2017, out of which 720 were Muslims, 516 Ahmadis, 238 Christians, 31 Hindus, and the rest 44 are unknown. 75 out of the total cases ended in the person being murdered before their trial.

There are 13 countries in the world which punish blasphemy by death penalty and Pakistan happens to be one of them. But unlike countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia where they are executed judicially—as mentioned earlier—accused in Pakistan are often killed in mob violence or assassination. While Saudi Arabia and Iran continue to top in terms of the highest number of executions, most of them for sacrilege or crimes against Islam, Pakistan’s total ‘judiciary’ killings stand at zero.

The problem of this mob mentality in Pakistan, especially when it comes to religion, is actually deeply rooted in its constitution. The country’s aspiration to become a democracy as well as an Islamic state is in itself contradictory. The people want the right to freedom and expression and the hanging of a person committing blasphemy at the same time. The constitution denies criticism of Islam while claiming to allow freedom of speech and religion. The elevation of one religion over others in itself is principally undemocratic.

Another interesting point is the fact that the people supporting these ideas haven’t been aware of how things can backfire. Muhammad Din Taseer—father of Salman Taseer—supported Ilam Din, who murdered a Hindu publisher over blasphemy in 1929. An ancestor’s support for radicalism ended up in his own offspring being assassinated in the name of blasphemy.

Mental illness and blasphemy

In Pakistan, often some mentally ill people are punished to death by mobs for unknowingly ‘committing’ blasphemy. In 2012, a man widely reported by the media and police as ‘mentally unstable’ was arrested for blasphemy in Bahawalpur district, Punjab province. A mob gathered outside the police station, dragged him outside, and burned him to death. There have also been cases of misuse where such vulnerable individuals were subjected to sexual abuse and later accused of blasphemy by the abusers to cover up their crimes.

Such abuses towards mentally unsound people would have been a criminal case and the abusers would have been punished—unless they use the blasphemy law—as the mentally unstable victim cannot defend themselves.

Role of Anti-Terrorism courts

Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism courts were set up to ensure quick justice in cases such as terrorism, sectarian violence, targeted political killings, hijacking, kidnapping, extortion and even arms trafficking. Earlier gang rape was also included in it—but removed later.

They are also key to controlling mob attacks on blasphemy accused as such trials are held here.

Yet, these courts have been facing several problems due to lack of basic resources and understaffing. The posts of judges often remain vacant for months, and the state prosecutors complain of poor working conditions—with no offices, stationery, clerical staff or legal resources. These problems may have risen due to the fact that there are not sufficient funds allotted for the ATC infrastructure, one of the major challenges in Pakistan’s legal system. Due to this, these courts are not able to fulfill their primary objective—to provide ‘quick’ justice.

Moreover, these courts lack independence and are vulnerable to political influence—the judges are held accountable to the executive. Sometimes the witnesses often refuse to testify against the accused, as they fear assassination by terrorist groups the accused belongs to. The judges, state prosecutors and others also have personal security concerns which also lead to delays in trials.

Also, these courts deny terrorism suspects the right to equality before the law. They are not even tried in a public place with full defense and are not presumed innocent. Peshawar High Court advocate Ghulam Nabi even challenged the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Ordinance 2009 under Article 199 of the constitution in December 2009, saying that it violated basic human rights.

The blasphemy laws of Pakistan need to be repealed in today's Global civic society. People are fighting for equality everywhere around the globe. And now it is up to Pakistan to choose—whether to become a democracy or continue with a pseudo-democratic authoritarian regime which is based on extremist interpretation of religion.

Read More