Articles, Reviews, Volume 3

Arab American Drama, Film and Performance: A Critical Study, 1908 to the Present

Arab American Drama,Film and Performance:
A Critical Study, 1908 to the Present
By Michael Malek Najjar 
A Book Review By George Potter
Jefferson: McFarland, 2015
Arab StagesVolume 2, Number 1 (Fall 2015) 
©2015 by Martin E. Segal Theatre Center Publications

Michael Malek Najjar begins his study of Arab American drama, film, and solo performance by recalling a conversation in which a colleague asked him, “Is there such a thing as Arab American drama?” (1). Such questions about Arab and Arab American performance traditions are not new, and, in fact, serve as the academic parallel to the American government’s request that Arabs consistently display their humanity and their American credentials. Najjar’s book is an important rejoinder to both kinds of questions, one that asks that Arab American work be accounted and studied seriously and that Arab Americans be allowed to tell their own stories and have their lived experiences also taken into account.

What is particularly remarkable about Najjar’s book is that it is not merely a schematic account of previous performances and films, as sometimes has been the case in early work on Arab theatre. Instead, the book is an attempt to balance a historical ledger against rigorous contextualization and theoretical examination. This balance stands as the great strength of the book, as it both provides the long missing historical depth behind the trendier post-9/11 Arab American performances, while also showing that these performances should and can be analyzed with the same rigor as any other performance tradition.

To the point of historical depth, Najjar begins the book with a lengthy discussion of waves of Arab American immigration from the late nineteenth century to the present, as well as the various degrees of discrimination, marginalization, and assimilation that Arab Americans have felt or engaged. In the face of these experiences, Najjar argues that “The political decision to identify as Arab American includes many factors such as the desire to maintain ties with one’s Arab heritage while simultaneously retaining one’s identification with life in the United States, a desire to fight for a more equitable and less prejudicial portrayal of Arabs and Arab Americans in the media, and a political desire to reject and change the more problematic aspects of U.S. foreign policies” (39).

From this assertion of an identity of resistance, Najjar builds an argument that Arab American performance comprises one form of resistance to mainstream American hegemony. Though Najjar primarily situates this political identity as having solidified itself after the 1967 Six Day War and the concomitant Arabphobia and Islamophobia in the United States, one of the strengths of his book is its deeper history of Arab American drama stretching back to the PEN League in early twentieth-century New York. There, Najjar examines the plays of Ameen Fares Rihani, Kahlil Gibran, and Mikhail Naimy within the context of debates within the Syrian (i.e., Greater Syria) community within America, a topic largely unexplored heretofore in the study of American drama.


George Potter is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Valparaiso University. Previously he taught Middle Eastern literature and culture at the Council for International Educational Exchange Study Center in Amman, Jordan. His research in Jordan focuses on competing national narratives in film and alternative music performances in Amman. His work also appears in The British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Arizona Quarterly, The Journal of American Drama and Theatre, and multiple book collections.


Arab Stages
Volume 2, Number 1 (Fall 2015)
©2015 by Martin E. Segal Theatre Center Publications

Founders: Marvin Carlson and Frank Hentschker

Editor-in-Chief: Marvin Carlson

Editorial and Advisory Board: Fawzia Afzal-Khan, Dina Amin, Khalid Amine, Hazem Azmy, Dalia Basiouny, Katherine Donovan, Masud Hamdan, Sameh Hanna, Rolf C. Hemke, Katherine Hennessey, Areeg Ibrahim, Jamil Khoury, Dominika Laster, Margaret Litvin, Rebekah Maggor, Safi Mahfouz, Robert Myers, Michael Malek Naijar, Hala Nassar, George Potter, Juan Recondo, Nada Saab, Asaad Al-Saleh, Torange Yeghiazarian, Edward Ziter.

Managing Editor: Meir A. Farjoun

Assistant Managing Editor: Nina Angela Mercer

Table of Content

  • The 2015 Egyptian National Theatre Festival by Dalia Basiouny
  • Damascus Theater Laboratory by Waseem Al Sharqy
  • The Birth of Modern Iraqi Theatre: Church Drama in Mosul in the Late Nineteenth Century by Amir Al-Azraki and James Al-Shamma
  • Theatre as an Optimistic Political Act: Lebanese Theatre Artist Sahar Assaf by Michael Malek Najjar
  • A Feminist Tuberculosis Melodrama: Melek by Painted Bird Theatre by Emre Erdem
  • Much Ado About “Theatre and Censorship Conference” by Dalia Basiouny
  • Mass Media Muslims: A Three Lens Theory of Representation by Jamil Khoury


  • Issam Mahfouz’ The Dictator presented in New York by Marvin Carlson
  • An 1868 Egyptian Helen of Troy play published by Marvin Carlson
  • Nahda: Five Visions of an Arab Awakening
  • Malumat: Resources for Research, Writing/Publishing, Teaching, & Performing Arts compiled by Kate C. Wilson

Book Reviews

  • Muslim Rap, Halal Soaps, and Revolutionary Theatre by Karin van Nieuwkerk, ed. – A book review by Marvin Carlson
  • Arab American Drama, Film and Performance: A Critical Study, 1908 to the Present – A book review by George Potter
  • Inside/Outside: Six Plays from Palestine and the Diaspora – A book review by Michael Malek Najjar

Short Plays

  • Out of Control by Wael Qadour
  • The Village of Tishreen by Muhammad al-Maghut

Martin E. Segal Theatre Center
Frank Hentschker, Executive Director
Marvin Carlson, Director of Publications
Rebecca Sheahan, Managing Director

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