For decades, ethnic minorities have fought for a place in society where they can be heard and accepted for who they are without being questioned or judged. The media plays a significant role in finding these people's voices as representation within the media and can substantially impact how people who do not conform to the norms of society are viewed.
Over time, a more diverse representation in film and television has emerged. A big part of this is because of social media and how audiences can get their opinions heard and demand inclusion. It is now almost expected for television shows and films to contain different ethnic and religious backgrounds to satisfy the need for people to see a version of themselves on the screen. If this is not the case, they can also get heavily criticized and, therefore, negatively affects how it performs. While this aggressive approach guarantees some representation on screen, it may not always work in favor of those who want to be seen. They are usually in secondary character roles made to fit into society rather than stand out on their own. Therefore we see a diluted and whitewashed version of characters from different cultural backgrounds.
A diverse and more inclusive entertainment industry seems the perfect solution for a progressive society. However, these representations may not always be positive and can even be misleading or untrue, hurting how those people are viewed.
One such representation of Muslim women within popular and mainstream television shows those women as initially repressed within their religion or trying to hide or run away from it. The idea of the hijab becomes a symbol of repression rather than its intended purpose of showing freedom from the confines of societal expectations.
In a popular Spanish show screened on Netflix known as Elite, there is Muslim female representation, but it may not be the way we hoped. The female character, Nadia, at the start of the show, seems to be content with her religion and holds her morality to a high standard. However, as the show progresses, this appears to be forgotten as soon as she removes her hijab and transforms into a western culture puppet. This representation is shown as positive and empowering; however, to many females who wear the hijab proudly, it is offensive to suggest that to reach true liberation and acceptance, you need to conform to the standards of an ever-shifting society. Although the discriminatory behavior she faces based on how she chooses to dress showcases the struggles women who choose to wear and honor the hijab have to face daily, Her actions continue through the season, suggesting her faith previously oppressed her.
In many cases, that is not true.
In a video called "Muslim Women React to Bad Representation," found on the Muslim YouTube channel, the women discuss this. One of the girls states, "I don't want to do that." "I don't fantasize about dressing differently for the male gaze." If the intended purpose of TV shows were to make these women feel included and seen, they would have missed the mark.
As much as we would like to think this is a one-off scenario, Unfortunately, this type of representation of Islamic women in the media is the norm.
In many other similar shows directed at a teen audience, we see identical representations. In another popular Netflix show called "Never Have I Ever," intended to capture the life and culture of South Asian drawings, we are introduced to a Muslim teenager. In this show, although she is presented as a Muslim, that representation is lost as we don't see her Muslim faith represented throughout the show. This, therefore, suggests the character is there to fulfill a requirement in the form of performed diversity rather than a carefully thought-out one.
The main issue we see throughout the representation of Muslim women is their unwillingness to associate with religion. There are no positive representations where the female chooses to be a Muslim, as it is not opposed to her faith.
The need for more positive and accepting representation in today's society should hold the highest value. The intended purpose of the hijab and what it represents to a woman who freely chooses to wear it should be the focal point of how these women are portrayed in the media rather than opposing them on religious grounds to fit into a western narrative that profits from romantic relationships and the sexualization of the human body.
Image Credit: 60ca24ac23393a00188e386b
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