“Homeland” is no stranger to controversy. While the show has had multiple Emmy and Golden Globe wins and has been hailed by critics, the show has experienced its fair share of criticism.
Earlier this month three graffiti artists were hired to add authenticity to refugee camp scenes, by painting Arabic words and symbols on the set walls.
In an act of protest, the artists painted the words, “Homeland is racist,” in Arabic, along with many other phrases such as “Black Lives Matter” and “The situation is not to be trusted,” as reported by The Guardian.
In a statement released by the artists, they explained their reasoning for their act of protest. “We considered what a moment of intervention could relay about our own and many others’ political discontent with the series,” they told The Guardian. “It was our moment to make our point by subverting the message using the show itself.”
Many who saw the show wondered how those phrases got past the production team and made it onto the broadcast version of the show. According to the artists, the Arabic script was not checked by producers at all, proving their point.
“The content of what was written on the walls … was of no concern,” they said. “In their eyes, Arabic script is merely a supplementary visual that completes the horror-fantasy of the Middle East, a poster image dehumanizing an entire region to human-less figures in black burkas and moreover, this season, to refugees.”
Ever since the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, islamophobia and anti-Muslim racism roared to the forefront of the American consciousness.
Suddenly, racism against Middle Eastern people became acceptable to at least half of the country, who were angry and seeking revenge for the lives lost.
Studies from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the United States Department of Justice, have shown a sharp increase in anti-Muslim sentiment from politicians, an increase of anti-Muslim activity, and an increase in the number of anti-Muslim hate groups since 9/11.
The openly accepted racism toward Muslim groups harkened back to the days in the U.S. when it was acceptable to put signs in restaurants, shop windows and swimming pools that read, “No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs.”
In a Washington Post piece, Laura Durkay proclaimed “Homeland” to be “The most bigoted show on television.”
Durkay opined that the show was riddled with basic errors about Islam and Muslim culture, as well as that it carelessly trafficked in absurd and damaging stereotypes.
“The entire structure of “Homeland” is built on mashing together every manifestation of political Islam, Arabs, Muslims and the whole Middle East into a Frankenstein-monster global terrorist threat that simply doesn’t exist,” Durkay said.
“In just a few steps, the show has neatly stitched together all the current bogeymen of U.S. foreign policy.”
While we can point to post 9/11 anti-Muslim sentiment as one culprit for the racism depicted on the show, we also have to acknowledge the lack of diversity in the Hollywood writer’s rooms.
Back in March, ThinkProgress reported that writer’s rooms were still heavily dominated by white men. Minorities hold only 13.7 percent of TV staff writer jobs, down almost two percent from the 2011-2012 season when they held only 15.4 percent of staff writer jobs.
When minority characters and cultures are being written by privileged, racially unaware white men, it’s not hard to see where the disconnect lies.
Television is all about ratings, and Homeland boasts very successful numbers. A more cynical person might begin to wonder if the racism depicted on Homeland is partially an attempt to appeal to the fringe, right-wing, Christian conservative subsection of the viewing public in an attempt to help with ratings.
While that idea may seem farfetched for some, it doesn’t negate the fact that the show clearly has a problem with accurate representation of the people it depicts.
One of the series stars, Nazanin Boniadi, told the Evening Standard that the claims of racism were “simply not true.”
“It [Homeland] really showed the ramifications and the human cost of war,” she said. “To say it takes a racist stance or, like the graffiti artists claimed, that all Muslim characters are shown as terrorists, is frankly not true.”
Boniadi may not be the only Middle Eastern person who does not feel that “Homeland” has a racism problem. No culture or people are a monolith.
However, we cannot ignore the very real and often serious impact that negative representations and stereotypical depictions can have on a group of people, especially in such a politically and racially charged climate in which we live.
“Homeland” isn’t the main culprit, but they are a byproduct of a society that continues to sweep bigotry and racism under the rug.
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