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Social media users call for Netflix boycott after 'racist' Jessica Alba film

Users say 'Trigger Warning' repeats anti-Arab stereotypes and serves to justify US violence in the Middle East
Jessica Alba's character confronts an American soldier shooting Arab characters in the opening scenes of 'Trigger Warning' (Netflix)

Jessica Alba has starred in a movie for the first time in five years - and has left some viewers wishing she'd stayed away.

Trigger Warning, an action film that was released on Netflix last week, features the actor as Parker, a special forces commando called back to the US when her father dies in an apparent accident, leaving her to investigate.

Many viewers who flocked to the streaming service to catch Alba's return to the screen balked at the movie's opening scene, accusing the filmmakers of reinforcing anti-Arab and anti-Muslim tropes and normalising the killing of Arabs.

In the first few minutes of the film, scarf-clad men can be seen opening fire at what appears to be an aid truck with "American Relief Organization" stamped on the side, driving in the Syrian desert. 

"They figured out we're not aid workers," says the driver.

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As the men in scarves gang up on the aid truck, shooters in combat outfits and brown keffiyeh scarves line up and take aim at the "terrorists" - as they are called in the subtitles - killing some and alerting the others.

After the American characters overpower the Arab characters, one army soldier begins firing at the tied-up hostages, angering Alba's character, who stops him from "murdering assets". 

"After all the bombing, killing, & terrorizing that the US inflicts on the Middle East, you still have the audacity to feature Arabs as terrorists?!" wrote one user on X, formerly Twitter. "Shame on your racism!"

"Islamophobia and Orientalism is so baked into Hollywood and media productions, which is the oxygen that loads the bullets in guns and bombs to be dropped in real life on innocent Arabs and Muslims across the globe," wrote academic Hatem Bazian.

"We live in an Islamophobic social imaginary that makes racist films like this a standard for how Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims are represented."

Middle East Eye has reached out to Netflix and Alba for comment.

Nuseirat massacre comparisons

Several users also drew parallels between the opening scene and what has come to be known as the Nuseirat massacre - Israel's attack on the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza in early June during a rescue operation to free four Israeli captives.

More than 270 Palestinians were killed and more than 600 injured by Israeli forces during the attack in which at least 250 air strikes rained down on the refugee camp over a three-hour period.

At the time, Francesca Albanese, the UN's special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the West Bank and Gaza, said that Israeli forces were "perfidiously hiding in an aid truck" to conduct the attack, referring to allegations that Israeli forces entered the camp using humanitarian aid trucks as a guise.

"This is 'humanitarian camouflage' at another level," she added.

The Israeli army has denied the accusations.

“Netflix just produced and released a new rubbish film where the opening scene is of Americans disguised as aid workers using aid trucks to attack and kill ‘Arab terrorists’ wearing Palestinian keffiyeh,” wrote one X user.

“If it sounds familiar it’s because it effing is - and it is intentional.”

“They would’ve changed the scene if it had happened in the west,” added another user.

Many called for a boycott of the film.

Several users also compared the scene in the film to a recent video from Gaza that captured a helicopter loading Israeli soldiers and rescued hostages near the US-built pier meant to deliver humanitarian aid to Palestinian enclave. The clip had drawn widespread anger and concern over its potential use in the deadly attack. The US denied these allegations. 

"Speaking of the pier, Netflix just released a movie where American commandos disguise themselves as aid workers to do an operation. Impeccable timing if you ask me," posted another. 

Following Israel's attack on Nuseirat, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) paused its aid delivery operations through the US-built pier in Gaza due to safety concerns.

Some social media users also pointed out that the scarves worn in the film bear resemblance to the keffiyeh, a traditional headdress worn by Arab men, particularly in the desert.

"I started to watch it yesterday and after the initial two minutes of Arabs in Keffiyehs, I changed the video…it is a movie starting with racism and Islamophobia," wrote one user.

The scarf has increased in popularity since last year, and has recently been used as a show of solidarity and to display support for Palestinians amid Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip, which has left more than 37,650 killed. 

Thousands more are missing and presumed to be dead under the rubble.

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