On Monday, ABC Family made an announcement about premiering a pilot show, Alice in Arabia, however due to an overwhelming backlash, on Friday the pilot has since been cancelled. Alice in Arabia created so much controversy due to the negative representation the show displayed about Arab-Muslim culture. It contained racial stereotypes, blatant misogyny and ill-conceived religious references. The script was written by Brooke Eikmeier, who was a cryptologic linguist in the Arabic language for the U.S. Army, she was trained to maintain NSA assignments in the Middle East. In September 2013, she ended her military service with a ranking of an E-4 specialist.
BuzzFeed reported that a copy of the script fell into the hands of Muslim advocacy groups and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the show is a drama about an American teenage girl who is kidnapped by her extended Saudi Arabian royal family and is forced to take up residence with them. The character was meant to be a virtual captive in her grandfather’s royal palace, but would soon be fascinated by her new environment and its people, who were to have various beliefs about the world and her predicament. For Alice to withstand life under the veil, she would have to rely on her wit and self-sufficiency to find her way back to the United States.
The show is dependent on a certain typical categorization of Arab women, being normal despite their religious affiliation to Islam. They are depicted wearing plain-looking burqas, but underneath they don designer clothes from the best fashion houses around the world and read En Vogue magazine. It is evident that the writer has familiarity about Saudi Arabia; the city’s contrast of luxurious shopping plazas with slum buildings and an Applebee’s restaurant with signage in Arabic and English. However, the script contains a couple of cultural inaccuracies. The garment Alice is forced to wear, is incorrectly referred to as an “abaya,” which an “abaya” is a robe that does not have a piece for covering the face. Also, her aunt’s name is “Radha,” a Hindu goddess despite her being a Muslim.
A spokesperson from an Arab-Muslim advocacy group has stated that the cancellation of the Alice in Arabia show does not call for a celebration among the Arab-Muslim community. It would have been preferred if ABC Family would have discussed details about doing a show portraying an Islamic-Arab society with Middle Eastern and Arab-American communities to showcase a fair representation of the culture. The thing that is more unpleasant about films and shows of Arab-Muslims is that people of Middle Eastern descent are not part of the creative process, case in point, the 2012 comedy movie, Dictator, no Arabs were involved in creating the film project. Also, the Broadway show, Aladdin, contained no cast members that had any Middle Eastern heritage.
For many years, Hollywood has depicted Arab-Muslims in biased, stereotypical images of terrorist, evil sheiks and villainous oil tycoons. Since 9/11, Hollywood has tried to become more conscious by integrating “good” Arabs to counter the “bad” ones. The cancellation of the Alice in Arabia show should be the beginning and not the end of entertainment projects willing to represent Arab culture in an impartial light.
By Isriya Kendrick