By: Noura Almane
This article includes spoilers for Apple TVs Hala and Netflix’s Elite.
I remember when I first saw the promo for Apple TVs show Hala. I felt excitement when seeing what I thought was very clear Muslim representation. Until I saw the trailers and learned that the show focused on, once again, the story of a Muslim girl being liberated by a caucasian, non-Muslim boy. It should be mentioned Hala does not have a very long relationship with her non-Muslim classmate. Yet, it still ends with her pulling off her Hijab and is still is a story entrenched with the same white savorism of other Muslim stories.
As a Muslim, it upsets me to see the only movies with Muslim main characters focusing solely on them being oppressed by and leaving their religion. Just like many other white savior stories, this idea is damaging and harmful to so many Muslims. There is so much importance in seeing yourself represented as a fully formed individual, not a tool to make a white person look like the savior once again.
White saviorism has been around for a very long time and is constantly the feature of Hollywood's big blockbusters like; The Help, The Green Book, The Blind Side, and more. It's the plot of so many books we study and praise, like To Kill a Mockingbird. In 2020, there must be an understanding between diverse narratives and self-serving representation, just like how there's a difference between featuring people of colour (POC) in a movie and having them be the comedic relief all-supportive best friends.
Furthermore, there should be an understanding that movies about Muslims do not always have to be about how religion oppresses them. Islam is a complex and diverse religion, and Muslims are diverse and complex beings capable of much more than what Hollywood showcases. Instead of focusing entirely on the oppression of women in Islam by Islam, Hollywood could instead shift to talking about Muslim women's oppression by Western society. Instead of bringing awareness to Muslim women's oppression, these movies contribute to harmful stereotypes towards the community. Movies and TV shows like Hala need to be retired, and instead, new movies focusing on Muslim stories and experiences need to come out. These stories do not have to focus solely on the character's religion, but instead, make that just another part of them.
With every new movie and TV show released, I continue to hope that they may display Muslims as the diverse and incredible beings we can be. Yet we still see movies and TV shows like Hala and Netflix's Elite time and time again. Instead of praising the few stories out there that paint Muslims in good lights, we focus on those that paint them badly. This issue is all the more important with the announcement of Marvel's first live-action Muslim superhero, Ms. Marvel, who will be played by Canadian teen, Iman Vellani. Though Vellani has commented that she understands how important this character will be to so many Muslims and Non-muslims, we can only wait to see how Marvel will display an identity so often saved as the one doing the rescuing.