When things get tough, who’s got your back? There’s power in numbers, and when people align behind a cause - mountains move. Wake up Hollywood - Western entertainment is overdue for an Arab awakening!
Last month, an exciting new drama penned by an Arabic-speaking US army veteran was cleared to “pilot” on American television channel ABC family. Alice in Arabia was scrapped four days later after advocacy groups (incited in part by a Buzzfeed article) raised concerns that the series - about an American teen who's kidnapped by her relatives and taken to Saudi Arabia (KSA) - would perpetuate negative stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims.
Writer Brooke Eikmeier anticipated controversy surrounding the storyline which centered on an teen who, after her mother’s death, must adjust to living with her maternal family in KSA. Caught between cultures, the mixed-race girl is more familiar with her American side, as her audience would be, allowing viewers to participate in her enlightenment and growing appreciation of the Middle East. Brilliant!
ABC issued a synopsis saying, "Now a virtual prisoner in her grandfather’s royal compound, Alice must...find a way to return home while surviving life behind the veil." That clumsy description included inflammatory words and wrongly described Saudi women as wearing “burkas”, destroying the series’ credibility and inciting strong opposition from anti-defamation groups such as The Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR).
Eikmeier intended that, as the series progressed, her predominantly Arab cast would achieve a goal sought by many in the US Muslim community: create a series that showed them fairly, with respect and complexity. It may have sparked greater understanding and tolerance, much like TV’s “Cosby Show” did for US black/white relations in the 1980s.
Undeterred, Eikmeier will now shop the drama elsewhere. She emphasizes that the show will give opportunities to Arab writers and Arab actors. So why aren’t Middle Eastern professionals in Hollywood backing her? Other than Omar Sharif, can you identify many Arabs who made it big in Western entertainment?
Here’s a list of 10 celebrities you may not have known were Middle Eastern. Not just born in regional zip codes, but actually boasting Middle East lineage. Lights, cameras, and let’s see some action for an entertainment industry uprising! (And leave us your comments if we’ve missed any!)