The ABC Family project, which spurred controversy earlier this week, pits Muslim values against American ones in a script dotted with cultural inaccuracies and stereotypes.
Rega Jha BuzzFeed
When ABC Family announced Monday that it had ordered a pilot for teen drama Alice in Arabia, the network's description prompted a wave of complaints from critics who feared it would be the latest in a line of simplistic stereotypes of Muslims on American television.
The cable channel protested that the project shouldn't be judged on a brief synopsis, but a script for the show's pilot -- obtained by BuzzFeed from an industry source -- is likely to confirm early fears. At one point, the heroine generically describes Muslim social views -- the opposition to drinking, for instance -- as "extreme." The script also describes veiled Muslim women as "completely formless, anonymous." One sympathetic female character, in describing her lavish Riyadh home, lauds it as "worth having to wear a silly veil while outside."
The show has some departures from the standard template. The heroine is half Saudi, and sees herself as a "good Muslim girl" -- not the blonde Christian victim more typical of the genre. But it broadly plays on a familiar narrative of a beautiful girl kidnapped from the United States by sinister Arabs, held against her will in the desert, and threatened with early marriage.
The hashtag #AliceInArabia became a trending Twitter topic across the United States when ABC Family released a synopsis Monday, with criticism focusing both on the description of the plot -- a half-Saudi girl kidnapped by her relatives -- and the ability of the author, Brooke Eikmeier, a former member of the U.S. military, to represent Muslims in a way that would prove productive to Muslim perceptions in American popular culture.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations said in a letter to ABC Family that it was "concerned about the negative impact this program could have on the lives of ordinary Arab-American and American Muslims" and that the series "may engage in stereotyping that can lead to things like bullying of Muslim students."
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee expressed concern about the show "promoting bigotry and stereotyping of millions of Arabs and Arab-Americans, and billions of Muslims around the world" and "perpetuat[ing] demeaning stereotypes."(Read more)