The angry, but inept, terrorist. The bumbling Sheikh. The sultry belly dancer. The ‘Good’ Muslim vs. the ‘Bad’ Muslim.
These are just a few of the tropes about Muslims that have dominated American film and television screens for more than a century. Too often, these negative and false ideas give fuel to anti-Muslim public sentiment and punitive public policies.
Yet, there is hope. In the last few years, more authentic and nuanced stories reflecting the diversity and complexity of Muslim communities have started to emerge from Hollywood.
Read about all of this, and more, in Haqq and Hollywood: Illuminating 100 years of Muslim Tropes And How to Transform Them, a groundbreaking new report by Pop Culture Collaborative Senior Fellow Dr. Maytha Alhassen.
Dr. Alhassen, the Pop Culture Collaborative and its special partner, the Pillars Fund, gathered input from organizers and artists in the field including screenwriter and producer Sameer Gardezi, Harness executive director Marya Bangee, and Zaheer Ali, director of the public history project Muslims in Brooklyn. Collectively, these recommendations are for stakeholders in entertainment, philanthropy, and the Muslim social justice community.
1. Understand the diversity of Muslim communities, and frontline their participation in, and ownership of, the creative process.
There is no one way that people identify as Muslim. There is no one way to be a Muslim.” -Kashif Shaikh, Pillars Fund
Muslims are not a homogenous group. Women, men, gender non-conforming, queer, secular, faith-based, African, Arab, Black, South Asian and much, much more, the American Muslim community is incredibly diverse. To understand this complexity, and for Muslims to have agency over this storytelling:
You aren’t doing us a favor. It’s to your benefit to get the story right and to tell the authentic story that the audience wants. –Kalia Abiade, Pillars Fund
2. Build and expand creative and career pipelines for Muslim artists within the entertainment industry.
Hollywood is doing a decent job with the entry level, but we need a middle tier of Muslim writers who can be decision makers and have power. There’s currently nowhere for them to go. In this bottom-heavy industry with a pyramid structure, lots of entry level people will be pushed out. How do we make sure that the artists who are breaking in now have 20+-year careers in the industry? -Sameer Gardezi, television writer
Philanthropists and the entertainment industry can make substantial, ongoing investments in all stages of the pipeline for Muslim creatives, starting at points of entry and continuing through a long-term career trajectory. This includes:
Philanthropists and the entertainment industry can make substantial, ongoing investments in all stages of the pipeline for Muslim creatives, starting at points of entry and continuing through a long-term career trajectory.
3. Invest in Muslim communities’ ability to advance long-term narrative change and participate in the pop culture for social change field.
We need to build our capacity for coordinated responses around important political moments and pop culture moments, and we need to build the infrastructure for a long-term, multifaceted narrative inclusive of the diversity of Muslim communities. This includes pipelines for talent to break into the entertainment industry, support with how to navigate it and go-to relationships between Muslim community leaders, Muslim artists and entertainment industry leaders such that the right people are tapped and hired when opportunities arise. -Marya Bangee, executive director, Harness
Culture change strategies are multi-faceted, and include the ability to:
Maytha Alhassen is a Syrian-American journalist, poet and scholar, working to bridge the worlds of social justice, academic research, popular culture and artistic expression. Alhassen has performed and wrote for “Hijabi Monologues” and worked with Blackout Arts Collective to support the development of art and poetry projects for incarcerated youth.
As a Senior Fellow, Alhassen will lead a project to unlock new pathways to create and popularize authentic narratives for Muslim, Arab and South Asian (MASA) people in pop culture. She will curate a cohort of MASA stakeholders across advocacy, social justice, philanthropic, entertainment, marketing, and other fields to engage in a yearlong culture change learning and narrative strategy design process.
(Follow Maytha @maythaphd)
Read Maytha’s groundbreaking report, “Haqq and Hollywood: 100 Years of Muslim Tropes and How to Transform Them”