"Ready for dinner"
Television writer and producer Brooke Eikmeier has responded to the controversy ignited by “Alice in Arabia,” her pilot that ABC Family bought and then dropped four days later, when BuzzFeed and Muslim advocacy groups alleged that the show promoted Arab stereotypes.
In a letter published by the Hollywood Reporter, Eikmeier, who has worked in the U.S. Army as a cryptologic linguist in Arabic, said that she, too, took issue with the way the show was billed — as a “high-stakes drama” in which an American teen is “kidnapped” by her Saudi Arabian family, and she must survive a “life behind the veil.”
She explained, “Personally, I would have simply written: A drama centering on an American teenager who, after her mother’s death must make the adjustment to living with her maternal family in Saudi Arabia.”
Though critics jumped on the show without much information, BuzzFeed’s Rega Jha got her hands on the script and wrote that the show was “exactly what critics feared.” According to Jha, the show relies on clichés, including “descriptions of Muslim women: that they are normal despite being Muslim because they too wear underwear and read magazines,” and contains factual inaccuracies, like that “the garment Alice dons in Saudi Arabia is incorrectly labelled an ‘abaya’ — an abaya is a robe that doesn’t include a face covering, while what Alice puts on does veil her face and head, including her eyes, making it either a niqab or a burqa.”
Eikmeier attempted to defend herself against Jha’s criticism, calling the piece a “hit job,” though she doesn’t address any of Jha’s larger concerns (which are legitimate):
The only gossip site that pretended to “report” on the actual script [Buzzfeed] did a hit job with the title for its article written before reading page one, and it ironically destroyed its own credibility by not recognizing a common Arab name and claiming Saudis wear burkas.
“A mob formed, made up its mind, then rushed to destroy a valuable opportunity for furthering the cause of women worldwide,” Eikmeier continued.
But if, as Jha and others have pointed out, Eikmeir isn’t getting it right — then it does little to “further the cause.” As Ayesha Siddiqi wrote at BuzzFeed, “As generous as it is for writer Brooke Eikmeier to “give Arabs and Muslims a voice,” she may be surprised to know they already have one. And we are so tired, so utterly over, having to use that voice to address the stigmas placed on us.”
Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.More Prachi Gupta.