Storytelling school

From Mrs. Marvel’ to Dr. Bashir Hamed on ‘Transplant,’ Muslim On-Screen Storytelling Evolves

In the series premiere “Ms. Marvel,” Kamala Khan grabs a piece of naan for breakfast as she walks past her brother, who is praying in Arabic. Later, we see the main character catch up with her best friend Nakia, who wears a hijab.

And that’s just the first five minutes of the first episode.

The show that stars Markham teenager Iman Vellani as a New Age superhero might have its own superpowers. It’s part of a new movement, which challenges the way Muslims are traditionally portrayed in entertainment.

The way Muslims are portrayed in movies, TV shows, and even comic books has evolved beyond stereotypical portrayals of Jasmine in Disney’s “Aladdin” or writers in crime shows.

“It’s a negative portrayal because often Muslims are portrayed as terrorists and villains,” said Sana Amanat, executive producer of the Disney Plus series. “They are also represented in a very one-dimensional way.”

Amanat, also head of production and development at Marvel, is seen as responsible for much of the change, not only bringing Muslims into the conversation, but putting them at the center of the dialogue.

As a Pakistani-American woman who started at Marvel in 2009, Amanat has worked to achieve greater parity for women and people of color in a space traditionally led by white men. The “Ms. Marvel character” was created in 2013 and brought to life in the series released this month.

“I never thought I would get this role,” Amanat said. “After college, I thought I was going to be a journalist, mainly because I wanted to change the perception of Muslims in the media and Muslims in the West. It’s kind of crazy that, in a weird way, this show is going to do that.

Amanat said that over time, Marvel has evolved not only in its storytelling, but also in the responsibility to tell those stories.

“It’s very rare for someone to go from comic book editor to executive producer, so this is proof that people have trusted me. Hopefully this is the start of more.

Perhaps the most groundbreaking thing about Amanat’s characterization of Kamala Khan is that she isn’t afraid to modernize the character’s Islamic beliefs, both in the comics and in the series. While her best friend wears a hijab, Khan chooses not to.

“I wanted to show Muslims as ordinary people. Let’s make Kamala think of bacon. She just wants to eat bacon. She just wants to know if this cheeseburger is halal or not. I think it’s very relevant. Very small everyday things. We don’t have to tackle politics to just tackle what’s on the breakfast table.

Serena Rasoul agrees. The founder and director of Muslim Casting, an agency that works to help Muslim actors get hired in TV and film, said showing Muslims doing things that are normally considered part of Western culture doesn’t sacrifice the ideals of religion. It just makes them more accessible to young people today.

“If it was my parents’ generation who are immigrants to this country, then I would say it’s the restoration of the West. But as someone who grew up in this country, those storylines resonate with me. What I love about shows like ‘Ms. Marvel’ and ‘We Are Lady Parts’ is that they don’t just give you a view of a Muslim woman. They show you all our different dimensions.

Pakistani-Canadian actor Hamza Haq stars in “Transplant” on CTV. Currently in production on the show’s third season, the actor believes the prevalence of Muslim actors in Muslim roles is largely due to the contemporary way the characters are written.

In an interview, he referred to an episode from the first season in which his character, Dr. Bashir Hamed, talks to Dr. Theo Hunter, played by Jim Watson. Hunter says there are different types of Christians, identifying them as “Christmas and Easter Christians, Sunday Christians, and Everyday Christians.” He asks Bashir if it’s the same categorization for Muslims. With no line written in the script for the response, Haq ad-libbed.

“I literally said, ‘Some days I pray five times a day and sometimes I don’t pray at all,'” Haq said.

The line has received both positive and negative feedback, according to the actor.

“A lot of people talk about this line and the reality of what it means to be Muslim. I feel like either our community expects us to be absolutely perfect or they think we’ve drifted completely off; that we don’t subscribe to any of our rules, regulations or spirituality because we missed a prayer. Really, it’s both.

Haq said the line affected as many people as it did because many found it applicable. He said Muslim actors face many pressures that others do not.

“At the end of the day, I can’t represent all of Islam on my own. I cannot represent all Muslims. And it’s far too exhausting to try. Because that line was true to me, it resonated with a lot of people.

Haq once called himself a “trash representative” of his culture because he accepted demeaning roles, including playing an Iraqi member of the Islamic State and a convenience store clerk, but said he s had recently woken up.

“That’s what I meant about being a trash rep. There was no reason why I was doing what I was doing. After “The Indian Detective” I hit this wall where I just didn’t want to work because of how it made me feel. And it wasn’t until I started thinking about the stories I wanted to tell and the actor I wanted to be, that ‘Transplant’ came along, and I thought I could do it justice.

Rasoul said there is still work to be done, but small steps are being taken. She was part of a team that developed a new on-screen test for Muslim women in TV and film called “From Survival to Prosper”. In partnership with the Geena Davis Institute and the Pillars Fund, it critiques Muslim representation in the arts on an A to F scale.

Show and movie producers are asked if they include a Muslim character or storyline, and if that story includes a prominent Muslim woman. Representations of Muslim women are then examined to see if the representations are oppressive, rejecting identity, monolithic, or objectified. Next, respondents are asked if there are nuanced portrayals of women.

“My favorite criteria that we set up was ‘joy.’

“Another one that I really like is ‘Muslimah on the move.’ Do we ever see the Muslim woman outside of home or school?Many times we just see them in domesticated circumstances instead of jet-skiing on vacation where she is fully humanized.

Amanat, Rasoul and Haq all believe that while progress is being made, there is still work to be done to normalize Muslim actors in lead roles instead of making them the exception.

“There may be ‘Ms. Marvel,’ but there’s still a lot more of these typical, very Orientalist, very stereotypical approaches, these portrayals of the ‘Homeland’ genre,” Rasoul said. to call it.”

Haq agreed.

“In the end, the good outweighs the bad, but sometimes the bad is just stronger. All members of a marginalized community have benefited from the bravery of the BLM (Black Lives Matter) movement. I personally felt a huge shift in our collective consciousness.

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