From 1975 to 1990, the world watched as Beirut was decimated by a complex, sectarian civil war that left, by some estimates, 150,000 people dead and a million Lebanese displaced. In the years since, the word “Beirut” has become shorthand for war zone, bombings, devastation.
Perhaps that’s why so many Arabs bristled when a trailer released in January for the hostage drama “Beirut,” starring Jon Hamm, seemed to reduce the city to a flashy backdrop for action-movie explosions — a backdrop devoid of Beirut’s unique topography that includes mountains and the Mediterranean Sea.
The film, which comes out Wednesday, is set in 1982, a critical point in the war, was primarily shot thousands of miles away in Morocco. None of the top-billed actors are Lebanese, and the trailer is rife with menacing accents, none of which are Lebanese.
Luckily, nuanced depictions of Lebanon, its people and the realities of its civil war have for years existed in movies, on television and in books.
For us and our families, the war is deeply personal: Maya, born in 1980, spent her earliest years in Beirut before her family left for the United States, and Joumana’s parents and family lived in Lebanon off and on throughout the conflict.
Here are nine ways to help you connect with the real Beirut.
Ziad Doueiri’s most recent film — the first Lebanese movie to be nominated for an Oscar — centers on what at first seems to be a small dispute between an apartment’s Lebanese tenant and a Palestinian foreman overseeing work near the building. The conflict turns out to be anything but minor, escalating into a trial that captivates the whole country, and leading to a nationwide reckoning with lingering wounds from the civil war.
A real-life encounter — in which Mr. Doueiri uttered a version of the film’s central insult — was the basis for the movie’s script, which he wrote with Joelle Touma.
As The New York Times film critic A. O. Scott put it: “There is something undeniably exhilarating about the film’s honest assessment of the never-ending conflict between decency and cruelty that rages in every nation, neighborhood and heart.”
How to watch: The film is still playing in some theaters. Check the movie’s website for a list.
Mr. Doueiri’s first film captures the early days of the civil war in 1975 through the eyes of a mischievous teen, Tarek, played by Mr. Doueiri’s brother, Rami.
Tarek’s city is being torn in half, East Beirut for Christians and West Beirut for Muslims. But for him, war feels like freedom: freedom to walk the streets and do as he pleases.
Mr. Doueiri, who began his career working as a cameraman for Quentin Tarantino, manages to evoke wide-ranging emotions in this film, from humor to hopelessness, by showing the daily trials of war endured by a typical family.
How to watch: The film can be seen free on YouTube, though the quality is low.
“Sukkar Banat,” or “Caramel,” is the first feature film by the director Nadine Labaki, who also stars in it. A critical and box office success, it explores the dynamics of five Lebanese women at different life stages in modern Beirut, where the movie was filmed.
While the story touches on postwar tensions, it doesn’t dwell on them. It is instead focused on the struggles that these women, who converge at a beauty salon, grapple with in society: premarital sex, aging, infidelity, repression and same-sex attraction.
“‘Caramel’ has an optimism born not of dreamy romanticism but of resilience and a degree of hardheadedness,” Mr. Scott wrote in 2008.
How to watch: “Caramel” is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime.
The writer and chef Anthony Bourdain loves Beirut. He loves it so much, he even considered naming his daughter after it. His passion for the city, its people and its food (the pulse of Lebanese culture) has been evident over the years in his television series “No Reservations” and “Parts Unknown.”
In his first of two Beirut visits for “No Reservations,” he and his crew were filming when rockets began to drop on Beirut’s airport. The Israeli airstrike accelerated what is known as the 2006 Lebanon War, a monthlong conflict that killed about 1,200 people. Mr. Bourdain and his crew, trapped in the city for more than a week, documented the experience.
“Like South Beach,” he said in the episode, “there were people drinking vodka and Red Bull, even while Israeli jets flew overhead.”
The installment earned an Emmy nomination for outstanding informational programming.
In a 2016 interview for the Television Academy Foundation, Mr. Bourdain called the experience “embittering,” and said it changed his attitude about the world.
A 2015 episode of his current show “Parts Unknown” upends some Arab stereotypes. “There’s no place else even remotely like it,” he says in the episode. “Everything great — and all the world’s ills — all in one glorious, messed-up, magical, maddening, magnificent city.”
How to watch: Episodes of “No Reservations” are available for purchase on Amazon Prime. “Parts Unknown” airs on CNN and streams on Netflix.
Written in the early years of the conflict, this novel is told from the perspectives of three characters: a militia fighter, a civil servant and an intellectual. The title refers to Ashrafieh, a Christian enclave of Beirut, and the author Elias Khoury describes the conflict in luminous, staccato prose.
Mr. Khoury, a Lebanese novelist, journalist and critic, often draws on his background in his writing: After growing up in Beirut in the 1960s, he became involved with the Palestinian cause during the war, and has remained vocal on the subject of Lebanese politics.
The civil war figures prominently in much of his work; other notable novels include “White Masks” and “Yalo.” (The Times also published a chapter of “Yalo.”)
Learn more about “Little Mountain” here.
Etel Adnan, the celebrated Lebanese writer and artist, wrote what many consider to be a defining novel of the war with “Sitt Marie Rose.” First published in France, the book, based on a true story, details the fate of a Christian woman kidnapped and tortured for her support of Palestinians. Narrated by a rotating cast of characters, the story offers a number of perspectives on the conflict; the novel has been praised for its frank discussions of gender, power and sectarian violence.
Learn more about the book here.
In contemporary Beirut, 72-year-old Aaliya lives alone in an apartment stuffed with books. Literature is her main window to the outside world, and was her solace during years of war: She writes of reading Italo Calvino by candlelight “while people killed each other outside my window.”
The interweaving of Lebanon’s history and Aaliya’s life adds up to a complex portrait of Beirut in the hands of Rabih Alameddine, a Lebanese-American writer.
Learn more about the book here.
Rebuilding Beirut after the war ended was a long, costly and contentious affair, and parts of the city remained ravaged for years.
Uncovering a trove of old photographs from around Lebanon, the journalist Zaven Kouyoumdjian spent two years tracking down the people and places from the images. Mr. Kouyoumdjian, working with the photographer Hayat Karanouh, sought to capture the same people and places; the collection shows in stark terms the devastation of war.
Learn more about the book here.
In “Bye Bye Babylon” — described as part artist’s sketchbook, part travel notebook and part family album — the author Lamia Ziadé offers a colorful, first-person record of her experience as a young girl witnessing her city’s quick descent into unfathomable violence from its splendor of the early 1970s.
Another notable graphic novel is “I Remember Beirut,” by Zeina Abirached (2014).