Movie Review: American Hustle and Abscam of 1982

Movie Review: American Hustle and Abscam of 1982
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Movie Review: American Hustle and Abscam of 1982

By Ray Hanania

English: Christian Bale at the red carpet film...

English: Christian Bale at the red carpet film premiere of Public Enemies at the Mann Village Westwood during the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Abscam symbolized a high point in the rise of anti-Arab discrimination and racism in American in the 1970s and 1980s.

It was an FBI driven undercover sting to arrest politicians and mobsters in New Jersey and Washington D.C. who were lured into accepting bribes in 1982 from a fictitious Arab sheikh, who was played by an undercover FBI agent of Lebanese heritage.

Abscam targeted 31 officials. The name Ascam came from a combination of the worlds “Arab” and “Scam.”

Abscam led to the conviction of one US Senator, six members of Congress, a New Jersey State Senator, a member of the Philadelphia City Council, and a member of the U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS).

None of that racism aspect is addressed in the new movie produced by anti-Arab Hollywood called “American Hustle” which stars Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence.

American Hustle is based mostly on facts but is exaggerated to make it more exciting for the audience. Much of the film, authorities contend, is accurate.

In real life, convicted conman Mel Weinberg worked with the FBI to take the heat off of himself by helping to lure local politicians and eventually some big name national politicians into the scam. Weinberg is portrayed by Bale.

Despite the conflicts the narrative of the film has with reality, the film offers a real insight into how the scam operated. Many of the names of people are changed in the film.

Actor Bradley Cooper plays an FBI agent who is engulfed in an egotistical surge of career success. He thinks the scam will make his career and he leans on Irving Rosenfeld, who is played by Christian Bale (and represents Weinberg) to help him nail at least four other people to reduce any charges that might be filed against Rosenfeld.

Jennifer Lawrence often steals the show as Rosenfeld’s gutsy and ditsy blond wife. She’s hilarious. Bale and Amy Adams, his girlfriend, are phenomenal.

محمد عبده

محمد عبده (Photo credit: Zamanalsamt)

But despite the film’s allure, it portrays an ugly time in America that has never been appreciated. Anti-Arab racism didn’t start after Sept. 11, 2001 when terrorist attacked and destroyed New York City’s Twin Towers, and damaged the Pentagon killing nearly 3,000 Americans.

It began long before in the 1960s and 1970s with the Arab Oil Embargo during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, and the campaign by the FBI to persecute Americans of Arab heritage. Abscam was a natural product of that racist discrimination against Arabs. No one thought twice about using racist Arab stereotypes to catch corrupt politicians. The concept of corruption and Arabs became one and the same.

For more information about the movie and Abscam read these references online.

Wikipedia offers a great background. Click here to read the overview.

The feature by Evan Hughs on Slate offers the best comparison of what is truth and what is reality in Abscam and the movie that was made about it. Click here to read the article.

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Managing Writer at The Arab Daily News
RAY HANANIA — Columnist

Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and Columnist who began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He covered Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992 (Mayor Daley to Mayor Daley) and has expanded to writing for newspapers around the world focussed on Middle East and American politics.

Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at And, he writes on American politics for the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News newspaper and the Reporter Newspapers.

He also writes for the online websites including, and (Illinois News Network at

Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Hanania began in journalism as an activist publishing Chicago’s first English-language American Arab Newspaper “The Middle Eastern Voice” from 1975 through 1977. In 1976, he was hired by the Chicago community newspaper The Southtown Economist (Daily Southtown) and in 1985 was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times and covered Chicago City Hall for both. In 1993, he launched the “The Villager” Newspapers which covered 12 Southwest Chicagoland suburban regions.In 2004, he published “The National Arab American Times” monthly newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East ethnic food stores in 48 American States.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States. He has a daughter from a prior marriage, Haifa.

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