In this age of inclusivity, every minority group must receive a positive portrayal in the entertainment industry, and Muslims are no exception.
To that end, Hollywoodreporter.com published an article by Sue Obeidi, the director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council’s (MPAC) Hollywood Bureau, and Sami Khan, a screenwriter and filmmaker. Their piece began with the statement, “As the nation heads into a new era with Biden and Harris, Hollywood should continue to bolster Muslims throughout the industry including bringing more stories and authentic portrayals to audiences.” Perhaps, they don’t mean producing a movie about 9/11 or how sharia adherents throw homosexual men off rooftops.
Obeidi and Khan went on to say that “For American Muslims and other marginalized communities the last four years have been some of the most trying in recent memory. While Hollywood has historically portrayed Muslims as the ‘bad guys’ in TV and film we had never before experienced the overt demonization of Muslims emanating directly from the most powerful and influential office in the world.”
This country has recently been at war with Muslim terrorist groups. If films like Zero Dark Thirty show the Americans as protagonists and the Muslims terrorists as antagonists, that’s not an attack on American Muslims, since most probably don’t condone terrorism.
Despite the “demonization of Muslims emanating directly from the most powerful and influential office in the world,” according to Obeidi and Khan, progress was somehow still achieved in Muslim inclusion. (So were they actually demonized?) Examples included “new television Muslim characters added to long-running series like ABC's Grey's Anatomy and the CW's DC Legends of Tomorrow. This year NBC made history with Transplant by casting, for the first time, a Muslim actor, Hamza Haq, to play a Muslim as the series lead character. We’ve also seen Black-Muslim narratives breakthrough with Nijla Mu’min’s Jinn and Lena Waithe’s The Chi. And we’ve seen the first American Muslim LGBTQ rom-com in Mike Mosallam’s Breaking Fast. Nine years ago, Mosallam created and produced the first Muslim reality show in TLC’s All-American Muslim.”
What virtuous people the scriptwriters are for adding Muslim characters to the plot. Isn’t Muslim belief inherently anti-LGBTQ? Are these people more interested in including Muslims or furthering leftist agenda? Regardless, it sounds like there’s been a lot of inclusion already. Are Muslims as marginalized on the screen as Obeidi and Khan think they are?
Aside from the multicultural feel-goods, “audiences want new, bold and emotional stories,” according to Obeidi and Khan. “The historical lack of representation of our communities means that there is a wellspring of material waiting to get out into the world, the previous examples being the very tip of the iceberg.”
That sounds fine, but Netflix and Hollywood, being the holy warriors of social justice that they are, will probably just write a story about Muslims being persecuted by white, bigoted Christians, or being suspected as terrorists by racist cops. Those kinds of social justice stories are not new or bold. They’ve been used so many times that they’ve become trite and unadventurous.
Naturally, the right-wingers were viewed by Obeidi and Khan as “obstacles to better Muslim narratives,” but that did not stop a rise of “more curiosity and openness by the industry,” as has been proved.
The article ended with reminders for Hollywood to “continue to lift up the work of Muslims and other communities throughout the industry to ensure that the gains made in the last four years don’t fall victim to complacency,” along with a message of hope to those trying to change minds: “We cannot count on winning every heart and mind, but with warm, fun, and authentic stories, we can spark curiosity in hearts that otherwise might be closed. At this moment in our nation’s history, that might go a long way.”
Best of luck to those who try. Just don’t make it a banal social justice drama.