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I went to see You Don’t Mess With the Zohan this weekend. I’ve never been a huge fan of Adam Sandler’s, so it was mostly to see Maysoon Zayid make a cameo in the film (tip: at one point, she slams the phone down and yells, “SHARMUTA!” Which was worth half the cost of my movie ticket!). And because I figured there would be something to write about.
Strap on your surprised faces, because I have stuff to complain about! Since this is about Muslim women, I’m going to try to stay on topic, but I have to get these critiques off my chest: first, what’s with all the freaking hummus?! Various characters would dip things into hummus or use it for random emergencies throughout the movie. Boy, did that get old fast. We get it, okay? Middle Eastern people eat a lot of hummus?! Let that horse just die, won’t you?!
Second, it really bothered me that the only semi-positive message of interfaith unity in the movie occurred because of the U.S. context; interfaith dialogue (and dating) seemed to be possible only because the two main characters were in the U.S., treating the Israel/Palestine situation like it was a lost cause. Like an Israeli and a Palestinian have never hooked up outside of the U.S. Please.
Okay, now to what really mattered: how were Muslim women treated in the film? Answer: like every other woman in the film. As passive slabs of meat.
For the first half of the film (this piece is almost two hours long–you’ve been warned), Muslim women were shown as background in Israel/Palestinian town scenes or New York scenes. Head scarves were worn without any fuss or special attention being made; a nice thing was the head scarves weren’t all same color; there appeared to be a little bit of color and diversity among the headscarf wearing sisters. At least they didn’t show them all in black from head to toe, right?
But other than the appearance of the main character, a Palestinian named Dalia (played by Emmanuelle Chriqui, of Moroccan-Jewish-French descent, pictured here) who Zohan eventually falls in love with, Muslim women are just background. We’re not given Dalia’s religious background, only told that she’s Palestinian, which is supposed to communicate to the viewer that she is Muslim.
There are plenty of Israeli women, but their appearance is nothing to be envious of: they’re shown exclusively in bikinis or underwear, salivating over Zohan at the beach or at his home.
When Zohan gets to New York and becomes a hair dresser, women (of no particular ethnicity or religion) are still pieces of meat; he shampoos and styles the hair of elderly women and then gives them a “happy ending” before sending them on their way. None of these women object to Zohan’s inappropriate thrusting during their shampoos; on the contrary, they seem pleased with his sexual attention. I can guarantee you my mother wouldn’t be down with a haircut like that, but Sandler wants us to believe that everyone else’s mother or grandmother would.
We get back to Muslim women when Zohan’s Palestinian rival “The Phantom” (played by John Turturro) is tipped off that Zohan is alive and in New York. He’s shown on a cell phone in the middle of four seemingly-identical women wearing black scarves with gold thread, tied around the face in a ninja/niqab fashion. They look like “Oriental Mystery” Barbie dolls. And, of course, they’re all fawning over him.
The Palestinian who tips the Phantom off (played by Rob Schneider) wants something in return for his services. He tries to barter with the Phantom, asking for “20 of [his] wives.” When he doesn’t get that, he keeps trying until the Phantom agrees to having one of his wives “touch the pee pee” of this informant. Here, wives are like cattle or magic beans: they get traded and are used as currency.
I busted a fuse when the Phantom is shown in a Rocky-esque scene, getting ready for his fight with Zohan. He wakes up underneath a pile of at least fifteen women, all in sexy bras and underpants. A PILE OF WOMEN?! Yes, folks. We’re all polygamists and that’s how polygamy works with us: everybody sleeps on top of each other in wanton disarray. I felt like I had taken crazy pills. He wakes up, and shoos them off of him, like they’re dogs who slept on the bed when they weren’t supposed to. (brain exploding)
It’s not just women who get the shaft from this movie: the male behavior in this movie (Israeli or Palestinian) reinforces the idea that Middle Eastern men have no respect for women, treating them as property, sexual objects, or both. Which is worse? Showing these women as passive receivers as sexuality, or showing men as hypersexual beasts with no self-control or regard for the women they shtup? Answer: both. In this movie, everybody’s a loser.