I have seen Timothée of Arabia caress the spice-laden sands while having messianic visions of a blue-eyed Zendaya in a desert perfume commercial and reader, on the whole, it was magnificent. A few thoughts on #DuneMovie 🧵
Herbert's story turns the Star Wars-style hero's journey and the white savior story on its head, subverting readers' expectations of a heroic superman by writing a mid-20th century critique of empire and imperialism, as @use_theforce_em has argued tor.com/2019/03/06/why…
Villeneuve seems to be following the overall narrative arc of Herbert's novel closely, as he sets up Paul's inevitable fall as a failed messianic/imperial leader. The film ends just at the point when Paul begins his journey into megalomania that will end in imperial autocracy.
@waraqamusa has some great observations on Facebook this morning about how the film references Lawrence of Arabia and Apocalypse Now, which offer two very different filmic critiques of empire. It's there in musical and visual refs: viz. Stilgar/Auda Abu Tayi Kurtz/Baron Harkonnen Javier Bardem as Stilgar in Dune and Anthony Quinn as Auda A
Lawrence is often read (in the western imagination) as the virtuous white savior who was thwarted only by the bureaucracy and politics of empire. But there's no way to read Paul that way. He fails because the project of eugenics, imperialism, and messianism *itself* is corrupt.
Villeneuve seems to understand that a critique of empire and of the dangers of charismatic leaders is the heart of Herbert's project, a fact often ignored by white supremacists and others who want Paul as an idealized Hegelian superman. @JordanSCarroll lareviewofbooks.org/article/race-c…
Dune's biggest disappointment is the film's reductive lack of representation in not casting MENA, Arab and Amazigh actors in key roles. Bardem and Zendaya are wonderful, and it's a diverse cast, but hello, Black and Brown people are not one undifferentiated mass, Hollywood. Film poster from Dune depicting Javier Bardem as StilgarFilm poster from Dune depicting Zendaya as Chani
When will studios just let Arab, Muslim, and MENA actors just be normal people and not the "Reel Bad Arabs" that populate endless film and television series? Huge missed opportunity to begin to redress one of the most longstanding biases in Hollywood. aljazeera.com/opinions/2017/…
This is especially true because so much of Herbert's Dune draws from and is deeply respectful of MENA cultural traditions and Islamic religious beliefs, portraying them sympathetically and in all their complexity, as @hdernity has shown tor.com/2021/10/18/the…
@akarjooravary had a great interview on the Islamic themes in Dune on @CBCDay6 yesterday that discusses how even Herbert's editors were like, "what's with all the Islam?" To his credit, Herbert stood by his commitment to imagining an Islam of the future.
On the upside, the first Dune trailer, released one year ago in fall 2020, replaced the word "jihad" (which is everywhere in the novel) with "crusade" (a not-at-all-analogous term), but the film changes it to the more neutral "holy war."
I think the change to "holy war" is a small but significant victory and I can't help but wonder if it was partly due to fan push-back after the release of the trailer, including a great op-ed by @akarjooravary in @AlJazeera aljazeera.com/opinions/2020/…
For more on the Islamic themes of Dune, I cannot recommend this rich and fascinating conversation with @AustinYoshino, @maythaalhassen @aaolomi more highly. I learned so much listening in.
Despite its flaws, #Dune is spectacular. The scale is epic, the sound and music are immersive, and its imagining of the exquisite details of costume, location, and setting are luminous and entrancing. I loved the role of women, Bene Gesserit, and centering of Lady Jessica's role.
There's much Orientalism in Herbert's original text, too. It's possible to love a thing and also critique it, to ask for it to be better and build beyond historic representational injustices. That's where I am with Dune. Let's hope that in part two, Villeneuve listens once again.

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More from @stephenniem

20 Apr
15 years ago I published my first article. It was about the Mausoleum of Imam al-Shafi'i in Cairo, built in 1211 by Sultan al-Kamil, nephew of the great Saladin. Now it is again resplendent thanks to an exquisite restoration by May al-Ibrashy & team. A story for #WorldHeritageDay
In 1180, Saladin had vanquished both the Fatimids and the Crusaders, and his first construction in Cairo - even before building the Citadel - was here, at the burial place of the Imam al-Shafi'i, founder of one of the Sunni legal schools and long a beloved figure in the city.
Imam al-Shafi'i's mausoleum was located in the most southerly of Cairo's ancient necropolises, often called the Cities of the Dead, though then, as now, they were in fact filled with life. theislamicmonthly.com/living-amongst…
Read 27 tweets
4 Jan
This conversation about @UTAustin athletics raises interesting points. Buckle up, it’s time to talk about the value of the humanities and ask how we got in a situation where it seems logical to argue sports and STEM matter more than history.
First, this argument hinges on the idea that that the monetary worth of a thing is its primary form of value, and that in a free-market, democratic society, monetary investments “naturally” reflect the desires of the people.
That system of value has a name: neoliberalism, an economic and political model that has its own distinctive history – first theorized by economists at the University of Chicago in the 1950s and ‘60s, it was then embraced by politicians in the ‘80s and ‘90s in the U.S. and U.K.
Read 31 tweets
11 Oct 20
Congratulations @wendymk for winning Honorable Mention for the Albert Hourani Book Award at #MESA2020! This is only the second time an Islamic art historian has won the prize, and it couldn't go to a more paradigm-shifting book. Read it.
"Professor Shaw’s book is a bold and successful attempt to reconceptualize the historiography of Islamic art outside the current Euro-centric and colonial paradigm."
"To do so Shaw takes “Islam” seriously as a category of analysis, arguing that it drives the production of Islamic art, rather than being incidental to it. In the process she places in generative tension the Islamic and Western paradigms for understanding agency and subjectivity"
Read 4 tweets
11 Oct 20
There are so many things wrong with this analysis that I'm not sure where to begin. First, Dune is so patently *not* inspired by the fall of Roman Empire - Herbert calls it The Galactic Padishah Empire for a reason. It's not subtle. Not everything in history is Rome, Tom.
The idea that early Muslims would have understood the "fall of Rome" is equally anachronistic. The early Arabs experienced the Roman empire as a continuous & living entity: what we call (equally anachronistically) Byzantium, they called Rome, al-Rūm. hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?is…
And not only did they view the Eastern Roman Empire as a living entity, it was a vibrant source of inspiration: influencing art, scholarship, and knowledge production in the early Islamic period. halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-0081740…
Read 5 tweets
11 Oct 20
'Herbert’s future is one where “Islam” is...a part of the future universe at every level. The world of Dune cannot be separated from its language...Even jihad, a complex, foundational principle of Herbert’s universe, is flattened – and Christianised – to crusade.'
'And, of course, writing in the 1950s and 1960s, the jihad of Frank Herbert’s imagination was not the same as ours [but] exhibits...influence of Sufism and its reading of jihad, where, unlike in a crusade, a leader’s spiritual transformation determined the legitimacy of his war.'
'When a director...casts people of colour out of the future, ...casts Islam out of the future, they reveal their own expectations and anxieties. They reveal an imagination at ease with genocide...with a whitewashed future that does not have any of the “mess” of the contemp world'
Read 4 tweets
22 Jul 20
Outside Cairo is the City of the Dead, a vast, sprawling necropolis ornamented with thousands of exquisite funerary structures dedicated to Sultans, scholars, and venerable forbears of the Egyptian nation. Now a construction project dooms part of it to destruction. Please sign.
And though its domed mausolea are exquisite, the City of the Dead is very much alive. Since the medieval era, its villa-like structures have been inhabited by generations of Cairene residents. Today, over half a million people live in the cemetery. huffpost.com/entry/city-of-…
If this thread has made you curious about the Qarafa, its history, and its people, read Gaila El Kadi's wonderful Architecture for the Dead from @AUCPress
Read 7 tweets

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