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Race riots and the multiplex

  • 30 July 2009
This week, Aussie film Cedar Boys will hit the big screen. It is the second film in just a few months that will portray the lives of Lebanese boys in South-Western Sydney. Caught between the usual dilemmas of youth, they must also grapple with  issues of crime and culture in what they feel is an already hostile world.

A few months ago, The Combination graced Australian cinemas. It shook social foundations both on and off the screen until it was banned for inciting patron violence. Days later it was reinstated, albeit with an anti-violence message from the producer somehow wedged into its introduction. The question  remained whether it had achieved all that it was meant to.

The past 12 months have showcased the above films, as well as the play From Lebanon With Love II and the Cronulla Riots-based drama Stories of Love and Hate. So the boys of Lebanon and the Middle East have a lot to answer for. They have found a niche in the Aussie pop cultural sphere, at least in drama and film, and within an academic analytical framework.

The success of these productions implies that the stories of identity, crime, revenge and belonging that they represent are striking a chord somewhere. 

In March this year, The Daily Telegraph reported that The Combination averaged $17,744 in the NSW metropolitan area in its first three days — despite the fact that four Greater Union Cinemas had banned it. In the context of last year's top box office earner, The Dark Knight, which had averaged $24,957, this was a huge success.

But why? In their own way, these productions all deal with Arab-Australians as the 'other', examining the extent of their assimilation, the codes that they live by, and their functions in a society in which issues of tolerance have reigned important for almost a decade.

In the aftermath of September 11 and the infamous gang-rapes, it seems easy to say why this is so. Easy to argue that 'we' ought undoubtedly to have questioned what codes these 'others' lived by, and whether or not these codes constituted 'Australianness'.

In fact all the right-thinking people necessary to ensure a moral panic about the Middle Eastern community did question the support by the 'others' of our 'fair go' Australian values. Religious leaders, politicians, and all-round high-ranking Aussies were among those who  weren't entirely