A few weeks ago, on March 17th, ABC Family announced that it was going to order a pilot for a show called “Alice in Arabia” and it was described as follows:
“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 pilot was written by Brooke Eikmeier, who previously served in the US Army as a Cryptologic Linguist in the Arabic language, trained to support NSA missions in the Middle East. She left service in September 2013 as a rank E-4 Specialist”
Once word got out, there was a backlash on Twitter against ABC Family for the way the show was described (girl getting kidnapped by Middle Easterners) and because the writer is a non-Muslim American from the US Army, claiming that she’s giving young Muslims a voice. The hashtag #AliceInArabia was quickly trending as many felt the show would be another in a long list of films and TV shows depicting Muslims and Arabs in a negative light. They feared it would lead to more stereotypes and would be harmful to Muslim youths in the US.
Two organizations, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, asked to have a meeting with ABC Family to discuss their concerns and to get reassurances that the show wouldn’t be harmful or stereotypical. Instead ABC Family released a statement saying, “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”
It didn’t help that the popular website Buzzfeed managed to get ahold of the script and confirmed the script was “exactly what critics feared”. They basically said that the script is filled with stereotypes and had some inaccuracies regarding life in Saudi Arabia and as a Muslim.
In less than a week from when ABC Family announced the pilot, they announced that they weren’t going forward with the pilot, stating “The current conversation surrounding our pilot was not what we envisioned, and is certainly not conducive to the creative process, so we’ve decided not to move forward with this project.”
Instead of just cancelling the show and announcing that the criticism was affecting their creative process, I would’ve apologized to Arab-Americans and Muslims for not being sensitive towards their concerns of a possible backlash related to the show. That apology would’ve gone on ABC Family’s official website and Twitter account @ABCFamily using the hashtag #AliceInArabia so that everyone taking part in that Twitter conversation could see it.
I also would’ve announced on their Twitter account that they would agree to meet with members of CAIR and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, to listen to their concerns are about the show and if possible to ease their minds by agreeing to make some changes that would not compromise their creative process and at the same time not be offensive and filled with stereotypes. It would also be a good idea if they agreed to have someone other than the writer, a non-Muslim, non-Arab American, help as a consultant. Many TV shows and movies do this such as getting real doctors or military personnel to consult on medical or war related TV shows/movies. This could’ve had a more positive outcome for both sides and perhaps it could’ve been a show that young Muslims and non-Muslims could’ve enjoyed.
I also would’ve taken part in the discussion on Twitter instead of being silent. This would demonstrate that they take the concerns of their viewers seriously and would be willing to create something that their Muslim viewers could be proud of and relate to. They would actually have a voice and not have an “other” speak for them. The hashtag #AliceInArabia proved that they are fully capable of speaking up for themselves and maybe a different show with a more positive representation could’ve come out of it.