New Bio-Pic Portrays Half-Syrian, Apple Founder, Steve Jobs
BY: Adrian Tafesh/Contributing Writer
In so far as the Arab American community is concerned, Steve Jobs is one of our most successful and noteworthy native sons. Half-Syrian, Jobs has become something of a symbol to Arab Americans, in more than just the typical ways. As for Jobs himself, it was always a more nuanced story. One marked by both tragedy and greatness.
The new biopic, “Steve Jobs” starring Michael Fassbender, is as much about the way our relationships mold us, as it is about the man who revolutionized the world of computing. Conflict after conflict in the film is projected through the lens of a man trying to come to terms with his family life. We are led to understand that because he feels a lack of connection with his biological parents, Jobs is at first un-inclined to accept his own child. He even goes so far as to explain to his heart-broken daughter, “I was poorly made”.
Again and again, the film sets its sights on Jobs’ struggle to find surrogates for a family unit. He sees John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), the CEO of the company, as a father figure. Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) is his so-called “work wife”. In fact, in the course of the film both of those characters come to refer to themselves as exactly those things, the film is hardly subtle about it.
All of this comes to full bearing for Jobs when one of his former colleagues, Andy, secretly helps with Jobs’ daughter’s finances. The implication is that Andy has taken the role of an uncle of sorts within the family, and Jobs is livid. “What do you do?” he begs of Andy, almost as if to ask, what is your role in my life? And finally, Steve Wozniacki, Jobs’ first partner, literally refers to Jobs as “Brother” throughout the film.
Now, all of this concentration on Steve Jobs’s personal struggles with fostering and maintaining relationships outlines a bit of his history that will be of note to many Arab Americans. Jobs’ biological father, Abdulfattah (John) Jandali, is Syrian. He is mentioned briefly in the film, and even shown for a moment in a flashback. Jobs was aware of Jandali, and yet never saw any reason to pursue contact with him.
It strikes of a story that Arab Americans have become accustomed to, many of our most successful and talented people do much better when they are full detached from their Arab roots as far as the public is concerned. Think Danny Thomas, Mary Rose Oakar, or Tony Shalhoub, along with many more. Though these people all acknowledge their Arab heritage, the public is largely unaware, which is unfortunately to their individual benefit. They are spared the public humiliation of being associated with any number of racist tropes.
Of course, Steve Jobs is a unique case in the sense that his Arab background was never a part of his life to begin with, and certainly no fault lies with him for not pursuing it. Yet, it is worthy to note that most Americans would not be able to reference an Arab American who has done anything of note, when there are in fact so many who have. Arab Americans are frequently faced with having to alter their identity in order to succeed, and having Fassbender who is completely non-Arab represent one of the most famous Syrian-Americans of all time in the film, is in a sense perfectly symbolic. It is the ultimate case of image-doctoring.
In the end the story the film tells is a refreshing break from the standard narratives we hear about Steve Jobs. This movie eschews rosy biopic melodrama and pretense, in favor of painting a more deeply personal portrait of a troubled, yet brilliant man. It is at times a harsh portrait, and yet it is honest and, in that way, deeply compassionate.