“Alice in Arabia” is one of three pilots ordered by ABC Family, but it’s already drawing criticism for its portrayal of Islam. The show is about a so-called “rebellious American teen” who’s forced to move to Saudi Arabia and live with her Muslim grandfather. But the greater-Los Angeles office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) announced on Wednesday that it has asked the network to meet with Muslim and Arab-American leaders to discuss the show’s potential for stereotyping.
Here’s the official synopsis of the show:
Alice in Arabia is a high-stakes drama series about a rebellious American teenage girl who, after tragedy befalls her parents, is unknowingly kidnapped by her extended family, who are Saudi Arabian. Alice finds herself a stranger in a new world but is intrigued by its offerings and people, whom she finds surprisingly diverse in their views on the world and her situation. Now a virtual prisoner in her grandfather’s royal compound, Alice must count on her independent spirit and wit to find a way to return home while surviving life behind the veil.
The show’s premise isn’t the only cause for concern. According to Deadline, the show is written by Brooke Eikmeier, a former army linguist who’s also worked for the NSA.
In a letter sent to ABC Family president Tom Ascheim, CAIR explained its concern. “As the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, we are concerned about the negative impact this program could have on the lives of ordinary Arab-American and American Muslims.”
The group’s Los Angeles executive director Hussam Ayloush drilled down on that point in a statement. “We are concerned that, given media references to the main character ‘surviving life behind the veil,’ the pilot and any resulting series may engage in stereotyping that can lead to things like bullying of Muslim students.”
In response to the criticism, an ABC Family spokesperson told Variety that they want people to give the show a chance. “We hope people will wait to judge this show on its actual merits once it is filmed. The writer is an incredible storyteller and we expect ‘Alice’ to be a nuanced and character driven show.”
Rabia Chaudry wrote about the larger problem of Muslim misrepresentations in America:
The American Muslim community is ripe with talent and voices who can actually tell these stories in relevant, meaningful, and authentic ways. Portraying Muslims and Arabs as nuanced Americans instead of foreign caricatures would be a good first step for television. Instead of reaching across the globe for “Alice in America,” perhaps we should start here at home with “Ahmed in Austin”.