« Video: Dubai | Main | Round-Up: Relativity and Rogue in Business »

October 21, 2008

Hollywood Steps Lightly: Spielberg and Soft Diplomacy in the Middle East


A major milestone quietly passed last weekend: the first major Hollywood film in decades filmed in the heart of the Middle East. “Transformers II” turned its cameras at the Pyramids in Egypt, and again in the upper Egyptian town of Luxor, near the famed Valley of the Kings. This is significant for many reasons but mainly because it represents a rare move by two Hollywood studios, Paramount and DreamWorks, to connect to a country and culture that is perceived to be hostile the United States.

I say ‘perceived’ because my guess is you’d probably find no more avid fans elsewhere in the world than those clustered around Shia LeBeouf, the star of the film, in this part of the world. But after years of anti-American images in the Middle East, and years of entrenched mistrust, this is the kind of interaction – and publicity - that makes a difference. I hear from sources within the studio that DreamWorks was “petrified” when producers got clearance to shoot at the pyramids and in Luxor, and that LeBeouf was hesitant but decided to take the leap. (I agreed to hold this news until production had been safely completed.)

Hesitation is certainly comprehensible. Even before 9-11, Hollywood studios and major stars were reluctant to set foot in the Middle East. Luxor was the site of a major terrorist attack in 1997, in which some 60 European tourists were massacred by anti-Western gunmen in a horrific bloodletting. And since 9-11, A-list stars were hard to lure anywhere outside the United States. Usually Morocco would pass for anywhere in the Middle East, if it wasn’t Arizona.

There’s more afoot. Another quiet milestone on the road to cultural cooperation with the Middle East passed last month. In 2006 Steven Spielberg was approached by King Abdullah of Jordan to enlist the director’s help in creating a film school for the region. (They’ve known each other since Indiana Jones went thundering on horseback down a mile-long crevice to emerge in front of the temple of Petra, shot on location.) The school, the Red Sea Institute of Cinematic Arts in Aqaba, opened in September of this year to no publicity at all. The University of Southern California, where Spielberg is a major donor, signed on as a consultant to create a curriculum for 25 masters’ students from around the region, including Egypt, Kuwait and Iran. The university has recruited instructors too. I’m told that original plans called for Israeli students to be included, but that security conditions ultimately made this impossible. The hope is for Israeli students to be included in future semesters. This is the way to win over hearts and minds in the Middle East -- that “soft diplomacy” we hear so much about from Washington and policy wonks, and see so little of.

In the end, “Transformers II” shot for several days, bringing together a crew of 150 Americans and several dozen local Egyptians for an effort that producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who called from a cellphone while standing beside the pyramids, told me was “remarkably smooth.”



Egypt is not the Middle East. It is Northern Africa. I've been there three times and the so-called "Anti-American" sentiment people try to portray of this welcoming country is so false.


Thank you DQ. Since when is Africa a part of the Middle East? This writer should take elementary geography again.

Alfa 147

A W E S O M E news and out of the blue ,i live in Egypt and i wish i knew they were comin',i'm a TF addict ,does anybody know if they r still in Egypt? how long did/will they stay ??


Read DQ's comment. Know your geography.

Nader Idkeidek

Nothing Anti-American in Egypt, and Shia had nothing to fear, the propabilities that he might die walking on the red carpet is higher than coming to Middle East.


Have to remember, these are Hollywood types and not the brightest in the world. Foreign lands to them would probably include Nebraska. Egypt has sand and people with a darker complexion and that fits their idea of the Middle East.... so it must be. Um....no. Cool shot of what looks like Magatron, resurected in some way obviously.



The Middle East actually encompasses parts of Africa as well. Do some research and don't make assumptions. However, I don't know about it being "the heart of the Middle East."


Thanks Jason! I was beginning to worry that I was the only one here that knows Egypt is in fact categorized as part of the Middle East. Apparently, 'elementary geography' classes nowadays don't have very bright teachers. . . or at least don't have ones that open up an atlas.


Prior to the completion of the Suez Canal, what is now called the Middle East is Refered to as Africa. Look at a map your selves Egypt is on the East Coast of Africa.


Check out any online new.... Egypt will always be located in the 'Africa' section not the 'Middle East'... plus thats not what's important here... what's important is to know the Egypt is not hostile to America... it has some hostile people that are "hostile" towards anything and everything just like any country including the US! so please do not jusge a country unless you've actually been there and have been treated badly by its people!


As I was reading this, all I could think was that was going to have to post and clarify things. Thankfully I didn't have to. I'm a first gen Egyptian in the Los Angeles area and I can confirm the statements made here by the posters. Egypt has been a diplomatic ally to the US for YEARS! What the heck is this anti-american sentiment?? Hollywood types claim to be peace building people of the world and yet they don't know the long standing relationship between Egypt and the US. Unbelievable.

"Foreign lands to them would probably include Nebraska." So true Puffergoose.


I think you folks are missing the point. It's not that Egypt as a country is hostile; it's that it's perceived as a hell of a lot easier for hostile anti-US individuals to move within the region than outside it.

Perceived. As in, regardless of what the reality actually is, the Middle East as a whole has been cast into a "lots of people there hate the USA" light because of various acts of terrorism committed there, or in connection to the region.

What major business *wouldn't* be a little nervous asking their multimillion-dollar investments (a.k.a. Hollywood stars) to go to an area of the world perceived to be, at the least, in a time of unrest?


you guys are so fucking stupid Egypt is part of the god damnd middle east. the middle east is not just afganistan, and iraq you fuckin hippies.



look it up under regions of the middle east ok



look it up under regions of the middle east ok


Name calling does not mean you're right btw.

Geographically Egypt is in Africa and is not part of the "Middle East".Politically Egypt is lumped in with the Arabic countries so you can technically claim that it's part of the "Middle East" politically.
But to include Egypt with countries which the "West" is in conflict with is a tad far fetched.


Middle east is an archiac term used for the region which starts at Turkey and ends with Iran. The author needs to be careful of his words, he really sounds like a FOX news anchor, who keeps telling americans, that everyone hates them. Most people all over the world are very fond of americans. The anti-american sentiment is towards the government and their policies.


Revenge is coming! and i cant wait!!!

Wael Omar

Hi ppl, i am Egyptian living in Egypt, Alexandria!
First of all! yes Egypt is an African Country! belongs to Africa continent. but in the same time it's also considered as Middel East Country.

Now! what really upset me! lol for godsake! the last time US was Hostile to Egypt was in 1973 when Egypt fought a war against Israel to take back our land Sinai. and it was against Israel even that US Supplies them. but after the Peace between us and Israel and the full restoration of Sinai! nothing happend between us excpet good relation!

And lol again! Obama was in Cario [ Egypt Capital ] a few weeks before now^, if your PRESDENT aka Goverment! comes to Egypt and find all that WELCOMING form Every Egyptian man, youth! any other american can! we aren't Anti-American! or ANTI-Anything! we are normal people who lives in Peace and very friendly to Guests in our country! but still when it comes to our land we fight for it! like ANY Normal people will do

So again! Egypt isn't Hostile to the US! we aren't Anti-American ( I have at least 20 American Friend ).

And i really hope next time they show something from the real egypt! not just Sand and Camels ;) cuse that's the old school duh!


Howdayyy ! I'm an Egyptian and so sad of the way you think of us , d00d just try not to be soo affected by your media other wise you're going to be brainwashed ..
Egypt is so peaceful country, terrorist attacks can happen anywhere mate ..
I'll make pharaohs curse touch you xDxD Kidding

Shia LeBeouf, your shiznit ..

MA Dissertation

Blogs are so informative where we get lots of information on any topic. Nice job keep it up!!

generic viagra

The age of the pyramids reached its zenith at Giza in 2575-2150 B.C. As of 2008, some 138 pyramids have been discovered in Egypt. The Great Pyramid of Giza is the largest in Egypt and one of the largest in the world. Until Lincoln Cathedral was built in 1400 AD, it was the tallest building in the world. The base is over 52,600 square meters in area. While pyramids are associated with Egypt, the nation of Sudan has 220 extant pyramids, the most numerous in the world.
The Great Pyramid of Giza was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It is the only one to survive into modern times. The Ancient Egyptians covered the faces of pyramids with polished white limestone. Many of the facing stones have fallen or have been removed and used to build the mosques of Cairo.

Bulk sms software

This article gives the light in which we can observe the reality. This is very nice one and gives information that is needed on this critical topic. Hard to find such blogs. Keep it up. Keep blogging.

viagra online

I like the lifestyle of the stars of hollywood, hopefully will give me the opportunity to get to have this lifestyle, full of glamor, luxury, sex, party, money, fame, facilities. That envy.
John M. Santillo
1805 Grove Avenue
Enid, OK 73 703

Shox NZ

So effective your next blog to help my opinion. That I already have got a lot because of your prized writings as well as that is my chance to write about the good views together with you.Hope we all can easily make contact a lot more by the e-mail and internet.Thank you a lot.

The comments to this entry are closed.