Muslims on Television – Hollywood
By Hakyung Angela Chung
Ever since the event of 9/11, Muslim, Islam and any names of the Middle East countries have been a hot topic in the United States. Stereotypes of Muslims have been shown more explicitly, and the word Islamophobia became a common term used in today’s society. How is it that more than a decade after the catastrophic event, we are still living in that post-9/11 conscience? Many believe that it’s through the media, specifically the television, that we are being feed to believe a flawed ideology of the Muslim community.
The flawed ideology, from Jason Stanley’s “The problem of Propaganda, has covered the Muslim community by placing them on the bottom of the religious hierarchy, and dehumanizing them based on their beliefs. This propaganda has been explicitly shown on media to grab the audience’s attention and succeeded in planting this false information in their heads.
President Obama spoke out during his visit to the Baltimore mosque of how there’s not enough Muslim characters in our TV shows, other than those who are depicted as terrorists, according to the article “Obama’s TV Muslim Tirade Missed These eight Shows” by Christian Toto . Toto disagrees with Obama’s claims, by naming eight TV shows that featured Muslims characters as key roles, such as Bones, Lost, Quantico and others. However, the shows he mentions are with narrative that does not relate to any political issues, other than Quantico. Its shows like 24 or Homeland that has terrorists as part of their storyline and are portraying Muslims as the terrorists. In the article “How media portrayal of Islam and Muslims influence Islamophobia”, written by Alexa Torrens from Syracuse University, Torrens explains that the general population, who does not have much idea about Islam, receive their information from the media, which covers mostly the issues in the Middle East, and connect the two automatically. The stereotypes around Muslims has caused the society to draw conclusion of any brown faced mass shooter as terrorist, ISIS, and a Muslim, while a white mass shooter is depicted as a person of mental issues.This does not stop as a political issue, but carries out on the entertainment side of television.
24, an American action thriller series about terrorism in America, being first aired in November 6, 2001, was one of the first to be dealing with this issue, soon after 9/11. In an interview article from the New York Times, “Can Television Be Fair to Muslims?” by Melena Ryzik Howard Gordon, along with Joshua Safran, the creator of Quantico, Aasif Mandvi, former correspondent for “The Daily Show,” Cherien Dabis, filmmaker of “Amreeka,” and Zarqa Nawas, the creator of “Little Mosque on the Prairie” a Canadian sitcom, shares about the situation of Muslim portrayal on television today. Speaking from the perspective as creators and actors, they have a common theme of wanting to portray a positive image towards the Muslims with truth in the narrative. All-American Muslim was a TV show that tried that, but failed. “The Cultural Politics of Islam in U.S. Reality Television” by Evelyn Alsultany compares two TV show “All American Muslim” (AAM) and “Shahs of Sunset” (SOS) and the outcome success and failure of the two shows. Alsultany focuses on the different ways in which the two shows represented their multiculturalism of Muslims (AAM) and Iranians (SOS).
All-American Muslim, which uses normalization as its strategies, in portraying the Muslim families as a “normal” and no different than the regular audience. The feedback they received was more negative in that the Muslim community criticized the lack of “real Muslims” as characters, and the other viewers, protested that the show was deceiving, and brainwashing the audience into thinking that Muslims are nice Americans. Due to the sheer number of criticism it received, the show failed after the first pilot season.
On the other hand, Shahs of Sunset, a reality show oriented around the lifestyles of Iranians in Beverly Hills went on for three seasons. In any other case, Iranians, especially in the post-9/11 era, received one of the worst stereotypes as Muslims and terrorist, however, with SOS stripping its characters of any relation to their ethnicity, other than the way they looked, it did not receive its regular criticism, like AAM, but instead was renewed season after season. Rather than focusing on the character’s backgrounds, ethnicity, or their religious beliefs, the reality show focused on their aspect of living a wealthy life of riches, materialistic views, and obnoxious narcissistic ways. Because of this the stereotype of “religious terrorists” has been taken off (on these characters) and was replaced with the “rich, obnoxious Iranians” instead.
By comparing the two shows, we are able to find that it is not necessarily the race of the actors and actresses that receive religious discrimination, but rather the story that the TV portrays that is affecting the viewers. Both show consisted actors and actresses from the Middle Eastern, but only one show, the one that was focused more on the religion aspect of the community’s life, was canceled after the first season. If this is true, and we know what is causing the influence of the audience, we have a way to end the religious discrimination on television.