“Muslims on Screen”
A new series called “Who Speaks for Islam?” will kick off Saturday on Link TV (also available to be screened online at linktv.org/whospeaksforislam) and it features a particularly relevant second episode titled “Muslims on Screen,” with interviews and clips of television series that have attempted, with varying degrees of success, to portray Muslims.
Hosted by PBS’s Ray Suarez, the panel discussion has its kick-off segment, “What A Billion Muslims Really Think” on Sunday at 7 p.m. (PT) and repeating Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. If you get DirecTV (channel 375) or Dish (channel 9410), you can see it as it airs, or you can use The Chronicle’s updated online TV page to see if the series is available on your cable carrier. Barring that, you can watch it online at the above link for Link TV.
While the first hour is more of your standard NPR fare about exploring big picture issues of Islamic views, culture, attitudes, etc., the second installment, “Muslims on Screen” is more relevant for TV viewers and it might also have a greater impact on whether the issues brought up in the first hour are ever truly understand by Americans, since television remains the most powerful medium on the planet.
Suarez does a fine job in the first hour of moderating the flow of the discussion between Dalia Mogahed (who co-authored “Who Speaks for Islam?”) and Reza Aslan (author of “How to Win A Cosmic War” and Middle East analyst for CBS News). But he seems to really get into the idea of both progress and lessons learned in the second installment, which features “24” executive producer Howard Gordon; screenwriter Kamran Pasha (“Sleeper Cell,” “Kings”); actor and comedian Maz Jobrani (“Better Off Ted,” “The Interpreter,” the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour) and Zarqa Nawaz, the creator of the hit Canadian comedy “Little Mosque on the Prairie”).
Gordon is the first guest and though he says “24” was an “equal opportunity bad guy employer” he talks about what he learned from repeated (and eventually more shaded) depictions of Muslims on the series. Obviously there was a learning curve for “24,” which premiered right after the Sept. 11 terrorist events and quickly used Muslim antagonists to fuel its far-fetched storylines.
Pasha has some interesting accounts of writing episodes for Showtime’s “Sleeper Cell” miniseries as well as breaking into the Hollywood writer’s group with an ability to change rampant stereotypes from the inside. Jobrani, a comic who has been in numerous roles as the evil terrorist as well as non-stereotypical comedic roles, talks about how it’s a slow progression for actors looking to stretch. And then there’s Nawaz, who created one of the biggest hits in Canada with “Little Mosque on the Prairie.” She credited American media coverage with helping fuel interest in the sitcom and launching the series (which is also interesting since most of Canada’s cultural influence regarding television comes from the United States – it’s almost impossible for home grown shows to get much widespread notice or gravitas).
“Muslims on Screen” airs Nov. 1 at 7 p.m. (PT) and is repeated Nov. 3 at 8:30 p.m. It’s easy to overlook something like Link TV – these days it’s hard enough for even PBS to get much notice for its shows – so make a note to see if you get it on your system or watch it online, since the discussion on media portrayals and influence is so relevant and timely. Hell, even Jack Bauer seems to be a changed man on the issues.