"Changing the Script: " Exploring Creative Solutions for Positive Depictions"

By Dr M A Mufazzal May 21, 2023 1405

The representation of Muslims in the prevalent media, particularly in the domain of cinema, has remained a contentious topic over the years. The customary characterizations of Muslims in films as terrorists or antagonists have yielded deleterious outcomes for the community, engendering adverse perceptions and perpetuating prejudice against them, which in turn have fueled Islamophobic sentiments and attitudes.

Nonetheless, the portrayal of Muslims in a positive light in cinema can be a potent tool in reversing the harmful effects of negative stereotypes and promoting social harmony and inclusivity. Strategies such as the inclusion of positive Muslim characters, highlighting the diverse identities and experiences within the Muslim community, and consulting with Muslim experts and leaders can help to create a more accurate and nuanced representation of Muslims in cinema. Through such initiatives, cinema can contribute towards fostering a more inclusive and empathetic society that values diversity and promotes mutual understanding and respect. To do so, there exist viable alternatives to ameliorate the said predicament and showcase Muslims in a favourable and constructive manner within the cinematic framework.

Primarily, the imperative lies in the creation of genuine and varied portrayals of Muslim characters. Frequently, cinematic representations of Muslims tend to be one-dimensional and lacking in depth, resulting in their reduction to mere caricatures rather than fully fleshed-out individuals. The development of nuanced and intricate characters by filmmakers can play a crucial role in dismantling stereotypes and presenting Muslims in a more favorable manner. A notable exemplification of this achievement can be found in the film "The Big Sick," a romantic comedy that adeptly portrays Kumail, the Pakistani-American Muslim protagonist, as an affable and relatable individual, endowed with a multifaceted cultural heritage. The film effectively presents Kumail's Muslim identity not as a source of conflict, but rather as an indispensable component intricately interwoven with his life and persona.

A potential strategy for altering the narrative of Muslim representation in film is to depict Muslim individuals as protagonists, rather than as antagonists or victims. In so doing, filmmakers can illuminate the bravery, fortitude, and power that is inherent within the Muslim community. This approach is exemplified in the critically acclaimed movie "Captain Phillips," which recounts the factual account of a band of Somali pirates who seize control of an American cargo ship. In this film, the lead pirate, Abduwali Muse, is presented as a nuanced character with a complex set of motivations that extend beyond his initial act of criminality. By contrast, the character of Najee, a Somali-American who aids the US Navy SEALs in their mission to rescue the hostages, is portrayed as a heroic figure who courageously risks his own life to save others.

This cinematic technique not only serves to challenge and disrupt prevalent stereotypes of Muslim individuals, but also allows for a more inclusive and nuanced perspective of this cultural group. By portraying Muslim characters as multifaceted individuals with their own stories and motivations, filmmakers can broaden the public's understanding of and empathy towards this community, while simultaneously fostering a greater appreciation for the universal human experience. In this way, cinematic representation can serve as a potent tool for promoting social justice, inclusivity, and cross-cultural understanding.

In the realm of cinematic arts, a significant avenue for challenging prevailing stereotypes resides in the portrayal of Muslim characters within unconventional roles. By transcending the established convention of depicting Muslims solely as immigrants or refugees, filmmakers possess the capacity to illuminate their diverse and multifaceted existence through the embodiment of professions such as doctors, lawyers, or artists. A remarkable exemplification of this progressive approach is discernible in the cinematic production entitled "The Siege," a suspenseful masterpiece that efficaciously presents the Muslim-American FBI agent, Frank Haddad, as a paragon of heroism, ceaselessly dedicating himself to the prevention of terrorist attacks. This film deftly undermines the regressive stereotype associated with Muslims as perpetuators of terrorism by ingeniously portraying a Muslim individual as an ardent law enforcement officer, diligently safeguarding the well-being of the American populace.

In the realm of storytelling, it is of paramount importance to proactively steer clear of tokenism, thus ensuring that Muslim characters are not simply included superficially to achieve a semblance of diversity, but rather become integral components of the narrative. Tokenism, by its very nature, possesses the potential to inflict harm as it relegates characters to the status of mere props, thereby perpetuating stereotypes. However, "The Visitor," a film of notable distinction, adeptly sidesteps tokenism by exemplifying a positive depiction of Muslim characters.

"The Visitor" unfurls a compelling tale revolving around Walter, a white American professor, who forms a meaningful bond with Tarek and Zainab, a couple of Syrian immigrants. What truly distinguishes this film is its portrayal of Tarek and Zainab as multidimensional individuals, endowed with their own intricate narratives and formidable struggles, rather than being relegated to the role of mere accessories augmenting Walter's own story.

The filmmakers behind "The Visitor" intricately navigate the treacherous waters of inclusivity, unequivocally demonstrating a conscientious approach to representing Muslim characters. By defying tokenism, the film successfully avoids reducing Tarek and Zainab to mere tokens of diversity, instead honoring their complex identities and affording them agency within the narrative fabric. Consequently, the film deftly dispels stereotypes that might typically permeate cinematic portrayals of Muslim characters.

"The Visitor" serves as a commendable exemplar of the potent impact that conscientious storytelling can yield. By meticulously crafting the arcs of Muslim characters, the film fosters a genuine sense of inclusivity and representation, fostering a narrative landscape that transcends the limitations of tokenism.

In summation, the cinematic depiction of Muslims has been a source of concern over an extended period, as it has consistently propagated unfavorable stereotypes and consequently contributed to the perpetuation of Islamophobia. Nonetheless, it is feasible to revolutionize the narrative and present Muslims in a positive manner. This can be achieved through the creation of multifaceted and genuine characters, the portrayal of Muslims as heroic figures, the deliberate challenge of stereotypes, and the avoidance of tokenism. By adopting these approaches, filmmakers possess the potential to dismantle prevailing stereotypes, foster understanding, and promote tolerance. Noteworthy illustrations of such endeavors can be found in films like "The Big Sick," "Captain Phillips," "The Siege," and "The Visitor," all of which have effectively employed these strategies. As we reflect on these successes, it is our ardent hope that future cinematic endeavors will follow suit and continue to contribute to this transformative narrative.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Al-Mujtama Team

Last modified on Sunday, 21 May 2023 06:55