NEW YORK – A leading American Muslim advocacy group has welcomed the ABC Family’s decision to cancel the controversial drama series “Alice In Arabia” after facing increasing criticism that it stereotypes Muslims.
"We welcome ABC Family channel’s decision to respond to community concerns by canceling plans for a program that had the potential to promote ethnic and religious stereotyping," Hussam Ayloush, Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA), said in a statement obtained by OnIslam.net on Saturday, March 22.
“We thank all those who voiced their concerns on this issue, and particular thanks go to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Muslim Public Affairs Council.”
The backlash started after ABC Family announced three new pilots in its programming, including one called ‘Alice in Arabia’ which tells the story of an American girl who was “kidnapped” by her extended family and forced to live in Saudi Arabia.
Other complaints were filed by several civil rights groups, including the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and CAIR.
“By purchasing a pilot of the show, The Walt Disney Company, along with ABC Family, continue to unabashedly perpetuate harmful stereotypes, orientalism and Islamophobia…,” ADC President Samer Khalaf wrote in a letter to ABC executives dated March 19.
“The imagery and depiction of the respective communities as kidnappers and oppressors of women, reinforces harmful stereotypical depictions of the communities as thieves, criminals, persons who engage in violent acts, captives and/or persecutors…
“By purchasing the pilot, ABC Family has reinforced these damning views, and has shown the world that there is a market for hate and bigotry. ABC Family and the Walt Disney Company, as a major programming source for American children, adolescents, and families, possess immense influence on the American zeitgeist and next generation, and have a duty to exert that influence in a meaningful, positive way, not one that demonizes a people, a religion and a region.”
In its defense for the new series, the ABC denied accusations, protesting that the project shouldn’t be judged on a brief synopsis.
Yet, Buttfeed confirmed that a script for the show’s pilot, obtained by BuzzFeed from an industry source, is likely to confirm early fears.
Prior to a meeting scheduled for Tuesday, March 25, in Los Angeles between ABC Family and representatives from ADC, the network announced the cancellation of the show on Friday night, March 21.
“The current conversation surrounding our pilot was not what we had envisioned and is certainly not conducive to the creative process,” an ABC Family spokesperson told NY Entertainment network Buzzfeed.
“So we’ve decided not to move forward with this project.”
Leaders of the American Muslim community have asserted that the show was the latest episode of anti-Muslim discrimination in America’s Hollywood.
“Arabs are always portrayed as one of 3 B’s: billionaires, bellydancers, or bombers,” ADC’s Legal Director Abed Ayoub told BuzzFeed in a phone call.
“But with most problematic shows, there is always room for debate. With this particular show there is none. We haven’t run into anything this egregious in a while.”
Ayoub urged other networks to reach out to existing Arab-American communities avoid sparking uproar over such problematic scripts and ideas.
Khalaf, the ADC president, agrees with the widespread sentiment that Alice In Arabia would simply have been the latest in a long line of Arab misrepresentations in American culture.
“For God’s sakes, one of the only Arab characters on TV happens to be in the show Community,” he said.
“The funny thing is, the character is supposed to be Palestinian, but the actor is an Indian-American. It reminds me of Hollywood of the ’40s. They used to have Arab terrorists and they’d pick a South East Asian-American with a British Accent to play him. What is that all about?
“What is your image of an Arab? What do they perceive of Arabs as being? That’s what really gets our ire. That’s what frustrates us. What is ABC Family teaching the young children of this country about what an Arab is?”
Khalaf cites several other gripes the ADC has had with the ABC networks and with Disney, reaching as far back as 1992 when Disney’s classic animated film Aladdin described Arabia as “barbaric.”
Till today, the show is being performed on Broadway as a musical with the same misrepresentation of Arabs.
“The Arab-American actors community in New York is pretty irate about this fact,” Khalaf said.
Other Arab misrepresentations he mentions include the evil Jafar on ABC’s Once Upon A Time.
The depiction of Arabs as terrorists, he says, is also perpetuated by several characters on Fox’s 24 and FX’s upcoming Tyrant.
“There’s a thriving Arab writers community, and a community of Arab actors, both in New York and in Los Angeles,” he said.
“I can personally vouch that they are extremely talented, and hope that they will actually be given a chance to be seen in some of these shows.”
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