Diversity Aboveground: Muslim Representation Needed
Muslims currently suffer from incorrect generalizations and bias. This is not suffering like an inconvenience or annoyance. In 2015, Mosques were attacked 63 times and there were over 38 reported hate crimes just in November and December. Many hate crimes go unreported unless there’s property damage or hospitalization. Even in Canada, crimes against Muslims rose 60% last year.
With most media coverage of Muslims focusing on the radical minority, should Hollywood bear a responsibility to educate the masses on what the majority of Muslims are really like? Yes, they do.
As Metatron said in Kevin Smith’s Dogma, “You people. If there isn’t a movie about it, it’s not worth knowing, is it?”
Sadly, people need film and television to make them see other points of view, like people learning about AIDS and homosexuals from Philadelphia.
Muslims have been featured as part of ensemble casts or as minor supporting characters but it’s very rare to see them as leads. The most famous fictional Muslim, Aladdin, doesn’t mention his religion. Neither does Jasmine. Sayid Jarrah (Naveen Andrews) was a positive example who practiced his faith while helping others but Lost ended nearly 6 years ago.
Since Hollywood prefers existing properties as less of a risk, there are many Muslims from other media and countries that could work well in the United States.
Aasif Qu’osby and the Rest of His Family
Halal in the Family remains the only family sitcom about Muslims produced by the United States. The online series also had an Advisory Council to keep it authentic and unoffensive. Even though there are only four episodes that run around five minutes each, this could be the perfect format for Cartoon Network or it could be expanded into longer episodes.
Shouldn’t there be an adorable Muslim family on our televisions?
Faiza Hussain is a medical doctor who became the bearer of Excalibur. What’s more British than Excalibur? In the last two years, her superhero name was changed from Excalibur to Captain Britain.
Marvel’s had success with female led series and Peggy Carter is a Britain living in the United States. What if Marvel had a series where the protagonist resided in Britain? On his own, Stan Lee created a series that debuted in January, Stan Lee’s Lucky Man. The phenomenal ratings have already earned the series, starring James Nesbitt, a second season.
Part of what makes Stan Lee’s Lucky Man so successful is that it combined the lead as a superhero with already being a police detective. Hussain’s series could be a combination of Hussain as Captain Britain and Hussain as a medical doctor; a medical drama with a supernatural element. Her superpower is being able to safely disassemble anything to see what makes it tick. This includes being able to open up bodies to diagnose health conditions. Will she cheat and use her power or prefer to use her honed intellect? It’s a terrific tension.
80% of victims in hate crimes against Muslims are women so it’s important to show a strong, intelligent Muslim woman. She’s also a geeky fangirl who knew the name of every single British superhero before she ever met one, similar to Skye or Kamala Khan. Paul Cornell, whose writing credits are extensive throughout all media, created her, saying,” I have two aims here: to make her a real person and not someone who has to represent the entire British Muslim world all the time — I think superheroes are too prone to being standard bearers for whole communities — and to make her an everyday religious person who you won’t hear anything religious from until it would naturally come up. Which is hardly ever.” However, Hussain’s hijab speaks volumes about her faith. Quantico garnered criticism after Raina Amin (Yasmine Al Massri) casually removed her hijab in front of a male not her relative or fiancé. Cornell may want his creation to be known for her own triumphs only but until the media makes Muslims as common and ordinary as Christians, Jews or other religions, Hussain does carry the weight of her gender and religion.
Just like your average teenage girl, Kamala Khan worries about boys, writes fanfiction about her favorite superheroes and whether her over-protective parents will allow her to do anything. However, those parents happen to be Pakistani immigrants who believe strongly in Islam. Being young and envious of the popular kids, Khan often sees the impediments to her faith but over the series, she appreciates it more and more. It also helps that her Imam at the local mosque encourages her. When she’s surprised at what he tells her, how she expected to be told to focus on studies and repent some of her questionable actions, he says, “If I told you that, you’d ignore me. I know how headstrong you are. So instead, I will tell you to do what you are doing with as much honor and skill as you can.”
Films and television series starring teenagers have always been enormously popular ever since Ozzie & Harriet and the beach party films. Superheroes are a sure thing so why not combine both? Plus, Khan’s series doesn’t have as many adult situations which makes it perfect for ABC or even Freeform (formerly ABC Family). Having a younger Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War will most likely wet the appetite for more Marvel teenagers.
Kamala Khan will make an appearance this year on Avengers: Ultron Revolution. It’s a start and better than nothing but plenty of characters have been featured on their animated series without any hope of a live action appearance. Khan deserves her own spotlight.
Samirah Al Abbas
Like Khan, Samirah Al Abbas is a teenager but she wears a hijab, Loki’s her biological father and she’s a Valkyrie in her spare time. It’s her maternal grandparents that raised her in Islam even as she works for Odin, who has his own religion. Al Abbas is a proud Muslim whose future marriage has already been arranged by her grandparents and her hijab has special qualities like invisibility.
The Magnus Chase series by Riordan takes place after his previous two Percy Jackson series. However, the Percy Jackson films aged up the characters so they’re approximately the right age for the Magnus Chase novels.
Or they could reboot the whole franchise with a Magnus Chase adaptation instead. Al Abbas is one of the best characters in the new series as she tries to prove herself as more than just her father’s daughter. Loki plays a major role in the series as well and we all know how much the Internet loves Loki even in non-Tom Hiddleston form. Plus, there’s magic, swordplay and characters communicating in sign language.
Or it could be turned into a television series. The Mortal Instruments underperformed in the cinema but the television adaptation, Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments, is one of Freeform’s top series. A Series of Unfortunate Events was equally disappointing at the box office but Netflix is excited about their new version. MTV’s newest hit is its adaptation of The Shannara Chronicles so it might be on the lookout for a new literary series to add. The previous two films were made through Fox but Riordan publishes through a Disney publishing company.
Obviously, Malik’s name would have to be changed to avoid confusion with the former One Direction member, Zayne Malik. This Zane Malik is one of the two leads of the award-winning Australian series, East West 101. The crime drama revolves around Malik (Don Hany) being paired with Ray Crowley (William McInnes). It’s the Down Under equivalent of a devout Muslim being paired with an Evangelical Christian in the United States. The only thing the two police detectives have in common is their firm belief and loved of both their occupations and their families. Despite the accolades and popularity, the series has barely been shown outside of Australia, never in the United States or Britain. This sounds a little bizarre, especially since it aired briefly in Germany but not Britain?
Australian remakes don’t often do well in the United States, usually because they can’t replicate the exact quirkiness found in that continent’s media. However, Hollywood has gone through so many pairings on crime drama after crime drama that Joey Tribbiani’s Mac and C.H.E.E.S.E. is starting to sound like a plausible series. Why not have a series where East Meets West? In the original series, the title isn’t just about their religion but also their cultures since one is from one side of Sydney and the other was raised on the other side of Sydney. It sounds a lot like the argument between those raised on the east coast of the United States and those raised on the west coast, doesn’t it?
In the meantime, we can all do our part. Tweet, Email and tell our favorite media companies that we want Muslim representation that’s more than just vilifying all of them as terrorists. Reward current media with our time and money. Tell others about the good stuff you find. Share it on Facebook.
Here are some links to help:
http://gwillowwilson.com -Wilson created Kamala Khan.
Next column…is Pee-Wee Herman an Asexual?