Arab Americans in Film focuses on the depiction of Arab-Americans in both the American and Arab (mainly, Egyptian) cinematic industries. Mahdi, assistant professor of U.S.-Arab cultural politics at the University of Oklahoma, accuses not only Western cinema producers but also Arabs of "vilifying" the image of Islamists. He uses Edward W. Said's theory of "Orientalism" as a lens on Muslims in cinema and describes any negative depiction of Islam as colonialist and Western.
Mahdi devotes pages to theorizing how the film industry alienates Arab Americans and shows them as a threat. He complains that Arab Americans are often portrayed as terrorists. But Mahdi conveniently skips over Islamist violence and ignores any storyline or theme in Arab cinema which does not conform to post-colonial theories. He critiques portrayals of Arab Americans in Egyptian cinema as binary: either "dollar worshipers" or selfless, community-oriented Muslims. Hallo Amrika is typical of such Egyptian films, which include criticism of radical Islamists. Comedian Adel Imam portrays a hypocritical and deceitful New York Muslim preacher, who condemns the United States as the "greater Devil that every Muslim must fight with all possible weapons," but also arranges fake marriages for profit. Mahdi omits discussion of these and similar portrayals or focuses on them only to show how racist America rejects Arabs.
Mahdi notes that Egyptian filmmakers often use negative images of Arab Americans to criticize the "imperialist" nature of America. However, in his discussion of films depicting Egyptian emigrants in the United States, he fails to compare these with other representations of Egyptians and Arabs living in Western European countries. For example, in Hammam im Amsterdam (1999)—which he does not discuss—the misfortunate protagonist encounters the same difficulties and types of people in the Netherlands that populate the comedies Mahdi critiques about Arabs who move to the United States.
Mahdi includes a lengthy analysis of the Egyptian film The Baby Doll Night, which includes many flashbacks to horrific memories in Nazi concentration camps and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Here Mahdi uses the theories of Ella Shohat and others who refer to "Arab Jews," meaning Jews who lived in Arab countries. This identity exists in American academic theories, but in reality, these populations never called themselves "Arab Jews." He even characterizes comedian Jerry Seinfeld as an "actor of Arab descent" (since his mother came from the Jewish community of Aleppo).
The book usefully describes the popular, cinematic image of Arab-Americans, but its excessive theorizing unfairly blames imperialism and Zionism for problematic depictions.