Inaccurate Representation of Muslim Women and Men In Hollywood
By: Raneem Ghunaim/ Arab America contributing writer
Is the representation that we get in movies and TV shows accurate? To answer that question, no. Over the years the Arab Muslim community has had such a bad reputation in Hollywood.
Many of our favorite shows and movies have included stereotypes and racist comments through their episodes. It was never anything dramatic that would catch the eye, but rather embedded into their shows. An innocent mind may not be the one to catch these flaws. Those who often analyze these shows would catch them. Or anyone that paid a little more attention while watching. For now, I will only focus on a couple of these shows, and point out where they went wrong.
Starting with one of the more popular shows, Elite which was released on Oct. 5th, 2018. Mid-2019 to early 2020 the show started to grow, and so did its fan base. It became popular with many fans that love and adore each and every character including Nadia. Nadia is originally played by Moroccan actress Mina El Hammani. She was portrayed as a Muslim Palestinian woman in Spain. Throughout the show, Nadia faces many difficulties.
Nadia being accepted into the school with a scholarship was one of the many challenges she faced. Typically, since rich students attended that school her being on a scholarship was “looked down upon.” Later in that show, the school administration calls her down to the office to tell her that if she wanted to continue going to school there, she would have to remove her hijab. The reason because is that they as a school do not want to associate with any religion or make anyone feel “excluded.” The news was striking to her at first. She tried to fight for it but eventually, she gave up and ended up taking it off on school grounds and putting it back on when she got out.
How is that problematic?
The concern with this is after watching the show, for a couple of more episodes we see her use the hijab as an accessory. It became a burden on her almost. As a viewer, I pitied her. Whenever she would go to a club or hang out with her friends, she would take it off. When she’s at home she puts it back on. There were many subliminal messages buried in that show that made me as a viewer almost look down at the idea of the hijab.
Let me elaborate on that, whenever Nadia would go to the club with her friends she is shown as happy, free and beautiful. When she is at home however in her family’s store working, she is shown in a cheap old store, tired. She just never looked good or happy! When putting the two images side to side, you can see the difference in her overall happiness. Things like that subconsciously make you feel bad for her.
As a hijabi woman myself, there have been times where I was watching the show and felt oppressed for her. The show was written in a way that makes you want to see Nadia happy….but only in the way that they wanted. Nadia’s character is already shown as very intelligent and understanding. Her character could have been easily just been based on that. Instead, they made her character to live a double life in order to be truly happy.
Overall, not a very well constructed representation of young Muslim women. Women worldwide are struggling with the hijab, it is not something to deny, but when there are shows like before-mentioned that promote western ideas, it gets difficult for some. At the end of the show, everything worked out for Nadia and she wants her dream school. The show as a whole is somewhat good, but the representation of Nadia could have been structured in a much better way. A way that would have been an accurate one to Arab Muslim women.
In season 2 episode 10, the BAU is asked to take on another case, and this time it’s a “terrorist.” Now just a quick background, the entire show consists of the BAU (behavioral analysis unit) dealing with criminals. Meaning: serial killers, rapists, mass murders, and so on. Their goal is to try and analyze their ways of thinking, in hopes of stopping the crime before it happens. They study the criminals’ mind.
Usually, when they catch their unsubs (unknown suspect), they described them as “sick,” “twisted,” “mentally unstable,” and so on. Mind you, they have dealt with mass murders before and people with sickening mindsets. Yet, not once were they called a “terrorist.” They would just be classified as mentally ill.
Now back to season 2 episode 10. The story was that the BAU took on a new case, however, it’s an Egyptian Muslim man this time. In that episode they had him locked in a room with two military guys who would come in to “torture” him so he would speak and release information. Giddion (one of the BAU members) entered the room to see the guy- to analyze him and his body language. He saw the guy was in his underwear, which was to dehumanize him, as they described it.
Giddion offers him clothes and water. They try and talk to him to see how they can figure out what to do next. By the end of the episode, we learn that he was planning on bombing and killing over 2 million people in the “Name of God”. The number of times the words, “Jihad” and “Muslim” were put together was one too many times. Then they switch to “bombs” and “Muslims” and so on.
Do you see what is being done here? Slowly they are manipulating those two words/ideas together. So next time you hear Muslims your mind will automatically go to negative thoughts. In all their episodes none of their cases were this extreme, but when it came to the Arab Muslim guy he was all the sudden planning on killing over 2 million people. In a way, this way of production is sickening and causing nothing but unnecessary hate.
Sand storm movie
The entire movie was so barbaric, the dad was willing to sell his daughter the first chance he got. The move was very misogynistic. The way the father acted and other male figures were solely based on stereotypes. Possibly one of the worst movies I have ever seen. It is filled with stereotypes, and the Arab dialogue for some characters was very off and unpleasant to listen to. The father remarried against the will of his first wife, and she had to “just deal with it.” This is one of the biggest misconceptions the Arab community has to deal with.
Movies like such do not help at all. After the first wife decided to leave her husband and instead of showing her growth after him, they showed her going back to her parents’ house since “he no longer needed her.” All the women in that movie were shown to be less than. There is no independence and no sign of civilization.
Greys Anatomy one of the better shows in HollyWood. Not one episode goes back without a deeper and meaningful message. However, in one of their later seasons, they get new interns in which one is a hijabi, women. Unlike many other shows, Grey’s anatomy did a great job of portraying her correctly. She was treated and given the same role as everyone else. She ends up taking off her hijab, but it was to save someone else though! The deeper meaning was there, but it is just unnecessary.
I would like to watch a show with a Muslim woman shown normally, without her having to take off her hijab to impress a white guy, because she’s “oppressed” or to “save” someone. Just once. This show did not really hurt the image of Islam or hijabis, which is why it is at the end of the list.
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