Muslims Are Having A Hollywood Moment | NPR Interview

October 30, 2018


NPR's Leila Fadel sat down with our MPAC Hollywood Bureau director, Sue Obeidi, for Morning Edition to discuss how the Trump presidency has inspired new Muslim content as a reaction to anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

[Sue Obeidi] consults with studios, production companies and writers to help them create more authentic Muslim characters.

"We're up against decades of storytelling that is inaccurate many times, that is racist often and very stereotypical," she said.

Among the tropes, she said, are portrayals of women as chattel, who don't have identities, or Muslims portrayed only as gas station owners, taxi drivers or violent villains.

Obeidi says it's an uphill battle, but things are changing. She starts to list the number of characters on mainstream shows on a white board.

"A Muslim surgeon on Grey's Anatomy; a superhero on DC's Legends of Tomorrow; an LGBTQ hijabi Muslim (she said Hijabi which is an adjective, Hijab is the article of clothing, Hijabi is used to describe someone who wears the Hijab) on The Bold Type; a pork-loving, alcohol- drinking Muslim on Master of None."

When writers come to her for advice, Obeidi reminds them that these Muslim characters might be the only Muslims some people ever meet. She tries to help them get the language right, for example in scripts that use the term Allahu akbar, which means God is great in Arabic, the language of the Qu'ran.

"You've seen many TV and film projects that have Allahu akbar being used in very violent scenes," she said.

She negotiates to try to get writers to take it out or offset it with happy scenes like using the term Allahu akbar at a wedding or a dinner party. Because for Muslims it's a beautiful phrase portrayed as ugly. And the impact can have profound ramifications in real life.

"So someone hears Allahu akbar when they're dining out and all of a sudden you know they're calling 911 because they think a family is doing something bad," she said. "When all they're saying is God is great."

A lack of diversity in Hollywood and other places means the clichés and the distortions can prevail. Despite progress, Hollywood still struggles with reflecting a more and more diverse America. The Hollywood Diversity Report, released by UCLA in 2018, shows people of color still lag in all key jobs in the industry, from leading roles to creators of content.

That's why this moment feels like a turning point for Muslims, Obeidi and others say. Continue reading.




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