ABC Family has decided to pull the plug on its recent series order for “Alice in Arabia” after pointed protests from Arab-American and Muslim American civil rights groups.
The show’s detractors were primarily worried about its depictions of Arabs and Muslims, and its official synopsis gave plenty of folks cause for concern. The drama was about sp-called “rebellious” American teenage girl who’s kidnapped and sent to Saudi Arabia to live with her Muslim grandfather. Its writer, Brooke Eikmeier, is a former army linguist who also worked for the National Security Agency.
“The current conversation surrounding our pilot was not what we had envisioned and is certainly not conducive to the creative process, so we’ve decided not to move forward with this project,” an ABC Family spokesperson told TheWrap in a statement.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations Los Angeles Chapter (CAIR-LA) acknowledged that Eikmeier had “noble intentions” but the group remained “concerned about the negative impact this program could have on the lives of ordinary Arab-American and American Muslims.” CAIR has previously expressed similar fears with “24,” “The Siege,” “True Lies” and “Rules of Engagement.”
So why is it so difficult for Hollywood to tell meaningful stories of Arab and Muslim Americans? For starters, Arab and Muslim writers don’t often get much attention.
Back in 2011, Alex Cohen dug into this for NPR and focused on the work of the Muslim Public Affairs Council to help train emerging Muslim screenwriters.
[Qasim] Basir wrote and directed the recent feature film MOOZ-lum, a semi-autobiographical tale of a young African-American who struggles with the challenges of being raised Muslim.
Finding financing for MOOZ-lum was a real challenge, Basir says. Hollywood executives didn’t quite know what to do with a film about African-Americans who were also Muslims.
“Because we know how to sell Big Momma’s House 4, you know? We know how to sell the Tyler Perry movies, but this here – who’s the audience for this?” Basir says.
Not every critic of the show is ecstatic about the show’s cancellation. Dean Obeidallah wrote at the Daily Beast that he would have preferred the network to have met with members of Middle Eastern and Muslim-American communities to work on a fair representation of their communities. But Obeidallah was also careful to point out Hollywood’s problem with Arabs and Muslims is much bigger than this one show.
…for years Hollywood has presented almost exclusively the negative images of us. As Dr. Jack Shaheen noted in his book, “Reel Bad Arabs,” there have been approximately 350 films between 1970 and 2001 that depicted Arabs and Muslims as terrorists, evil sheiks, and other dastardly villains. Although since 9/11 Hollywood has tried to be more responsible by including the one “good” Middle Eastern person to counterbalance the sea of “bad” ones as we’ve seen inHomeland. (And usually the “good” Arab is killed by the “bad” ones.)
What’s even more disturbing is that, in general, people of Middle Eastern heritage aren’t part of the creative team even though the project focuses on our culture.