Just how much has Muslim representation changed in Hollywood over the last century? A new report attempts to answer that question in great detail.
In “Haqq & Hollywood: Illuminating 100 years of Muslim Tropes and How to Transform Them,” journalist and scholar Maytha Alhassen details the limited presence of Muslim characters in Hollywood over the last 100 years. Alhassen was awarded the Pop Culture Collaborative Senior Fellowship to “lead a project to create and popularize authentic narratives for Muslims in popular culture.”
Over the course of the 44 page report, Alhassen delves into the history of creating diverse characters in Hollywood. The report includes an overview of whitewashing with Alhassen calling out of Muslim tropes like terrorists and sexy Sheikhs. She also looks at how Hollywood’s view of Muslims changed after Sept. 11 and delved intothe concept of a Good Muslim vs. Bad Muslim. The report also looks at the many Muslim creators and artists working to bust those limiting tropes themselves. Finally, because politics and Hollywood go hand in hand, the report examines how things have progressed since the 2016 election.
“Haqq & Hollywood” is a long but noteworthy read. The introduction states its mission eloquently: “This report focuses on the portrayal of Muslims through the racial and ethnic categories of Black Americans, Arabs, Iranians, and South Asians, as well as the ways Muslims are gendered in film and television. To understand and disrupt the use of these tropes is to break a centuries-old narrative choke hold.”
Alhassen and Pop Culture Collaborative’s endeavor to shine a light on the long history of Islamophobia through stereotypes in Hollywood is eye-opening and much-needed. They don’t just dive into how poorly Muslims were framed in the media and in Hollywood, which defaulted in negative stereotypes. They also talk about how the new generation of Muslim artists are regaining control of the narrative.
Emmy award-winning actor Riz Ahmed is creating a series for BBC titled “Englistan” about immigration in the UK, Kashmiri-American Musa Syeed’s environmental film about Dal Lake “Valley of the Saints” won big at Sundance 2012, Hasan Minhaj is the first Muslim Indian-American man to host his talk show, which will premiere on Netflix at the end of October.
“Haqq & Hollywood” goes on to list several other artists, big and small, and their achievements in terms of telling diverse Muslim stories through various multimedia platforms, including web series like Fatimah Asgarh‘s “Brown Girls,” which focuses on pertinent LGBTQ Muslim characters.
Best of all, the report ends with recommendations on how to improve Muslim representation moving forward. Alhassen, Pop Culture Collab, and the Pillars Fund “gathered input from organizers and artists in the field.” They included “East of La Brea” creator Sameer Gardezi and director of public history project “Muslims in Brooklyn” Zaheer Ali.
“Haqq and Hollywood” is clearly all-inclusive. They pin point the problem but also suggest ways to fix it. They make it clear that these recommendations, while made with keeping Muslim representation in mind, can be applied to all marginalized communities.