Have you ever been so upset by a negative or ignorant depiction of a group of people by a TV show that you’ve just wanted to yell at the screen?
A group of Arabic-speaking artists, hired by producers of the popular show “Homeland,” went several steps further than that.
Tasked with decorating the set with Arabic-language street graffiti, the artists instead “hacked” the show, “subverting (its) message using the show itself,” according to Egyptian artist Heba Amin.
Amin and fellow artists Caram Kapp and Stone were paid to spray-paint messages on a set intended to look like a Syrian refugee camp, according to CNN. But neither set designers nor the show’s producers seemed to know or care what those messages actually said.
Only after the episode aired Oct. 11 did the “hack” become apparent.
Words and phrases written on set walls include “‘Homeland’ is racist,” “This show does not represent the views of the artists,” and, in a particularly clever twist, “#BlackLivesMatter” spelled out phonetically in the Arabic alphabet.
The artists decided to use the opportunity to cover a “Homeland” set in graffiti as a “moment of intervention” against “the most bigoted show on television,” according to a statement on Amin’s website, hebaamin.com.
To claim that the show is “bigoted” is perhaps putting it mildly. “Homeland” presents a world in which “the photogenic, mainly white, mostly American protector” battles “the evil and backwards Muslim threat,” Amin explains on her website.
The show homogenizes the incredible diversity of the world’s one billion Muslims, suggesting that Al Qaeda is affiliated with Iran (patently untrue) and that Arabs, Pakistanis and Afghans are all more or less equivalent.
Mohammad Jibran Nasir, a lawyer and social activist from Pakistan, criticizes the show’s depiction of Pakistan and Pakistanis in a BuzzFeed video available on YouTube. Among the “fails” he points out are inaccurate clothing, Arab actors playing Pakistani characters and basic errors in Urdu-language signs on the show’s sets.
Even more shockingly, the show names a terrorist character “Haissam Haqqani,” which is almost identical to the name of Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani.
These inaccurate, racist and Islamophobic depictions are not a purely academic consideration.
Racist and Islamophobic portrayals of Muslims in popular media are absorbed by individuals who may already be inclined toward xenophobic or racist viewpoints. These unfavorable depictions can then drive racism, prejudice and even violent attacks on those perceived as belonging to the enemy categories depicted on shows like “Homeland.”
Just a few days ago, right here in Bloomington, now-expelled IU student Triceten Bickford physically assaulted a Muslim woman having lunch with her daughter, strangling her and trying to forcibly remove her headscarf, according to the Indiana Daily Student.
The woman said he yelled “white power” as he approached her.
Depictions in popular media, including TV shows like “Homeland,” of Muslims as dangerous terrorists encourage such hateful and violent behavior.
I applaud the artists who brilliantly called out “Homeland” as racist using a language the show’s producers clearly do not read or understand.
Racism on the show and racist attacks like the hate crime perpetrated by Bickford grow from the same root and drink from the same poisoned well.
It’s time for “Homeland,” along with the rest of American popular media, to clean up its act.
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