Reporter Julie Poucher Harbin was kind to ask me about my thoughts on the representation of Muslims in Television and Film for her latest piece at Religion News Service. I was in the midst of teaching my Islam in Film course and working on the outline for a current book project, The Cinematic Lives of Muslims. Here are the relevant quotes:
Hollywood reworks Muslim stereotypes
(RNS) As part of his “Islam in Film” class at the University of Nebraska, religious studies professor Kristian Petersen screens movies such as “The Hurt Locker” (2008), “Argo” (2012) and “American Sniper” (2014) to make the point that depictions of Muslims on the big screen often involve a conflict narrative.
Muslim characters are either terrorists or “good” Muslims trying to overcome “bad” Muslim plots. In either case, they “are still constrained by conflictual framing,” typically around themes such as terrorism, post-9/11 politics or overseas military intervention.
Petersen, the religious studies professor, notes that it’s “very rare” to see “a complex character that just happens to be a Muslim, and is not uniquely identified by some essential ‘Islamic’ trait.”
There are exceptions, he pointed out, such as the character Abed of “Community” and Sayid of “Lost,” who “were not defined by their religious practice or communal identity though they were marked as Muslims by the shows’ creators.”