ABC Family has killed its program “Alice in Arabia” before it began after complaints that it relied on stereotypes of Muslims, a network spokesperson told BuzzFeed Friday night. The show's pick-up had been announced on Monday.
The pilot followed an American teen who is kidnapped by her Saudi Arabian extended family and must “find a way to return home while surviving life behind the veil.” The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) hated it. In a letter to ABC executives, ADC President Samer Khalaf complained:
By purchasing a pilot of the show, The Walt Disney Company, along with ABC Family, continue to unabashedly perpetuate harmful stereotypes, orientalism and Islamophobia… The imagery and depiction of the respective communities as kidnappers and oppressors of women, reinforces harmful stereotypical depictions of the communities as thieves, criminals, persons who engage in violent acts, captives and/or persecutors…
By purchasing the pilot, ABC Family has reinforced these damning views, and has shown the world that there is a market for hate and bigotry. ABC Family and the Walt Disney Company, as a major programming source for American children, adolescents, and families, possess immense influence on the American zeitgeist and next generation, and have a duty to exert that influence in a meaningful, positive way, not one that demonizes a people, a religion and a region.
This was not how ABC treated the Catholics. In 1997, ABC itself ran a season of a show called "Nothing Sacred," . That was only canceled because of poor ratings after almost a year of shows, despite Catholic conservative complaints.
Before that aired, then-Los Angeles Times TV critic Howard Rosenberg explained that in the pilot episode the protagonist, a young priest named Father Ray, "seriously question[s] the existence of God, [is] tempted by an old flame... [and] counsel[s] an unmarried woman who is contemplating ending her pregnancy to follow her own conscience instead of the church's stricture against abortion. In addition, a nun associated with [Ray's] inner-city parish is adamant about God['s] being female." Rosenberg was thrilled. Father Ray "may turn out to be prime time's most interesting, thoughtful and complex new character, and 'Nothing Sacred' its most challenging new series." He even said "The crises [Ray] faces are a dramatic turn-on."
The surprising part of this aborted "Alice in Arabia" show comes when the ABC Family flack suggests they were somehow surprised by the Muslim reaction to their reported plotline: “The current conversation surrounding our pilot was not what we had envisioned and is certainly not conducive to the creative process, so we’ve decided not to move forward with this project.”
Entertainment Weekly quoted CAIR’s Yasmin Nouh before the show was killed: “We want ABC to sit down and to meet with us and have a dialogue,” spokeswoman Yasmin Nouh told EW. “[And] to recognize that the portrayal of [this story has] real consequences on Muslims and especially on Muslim youth, not only how others treat them, but in terms of how they see themselves.”
Nouh was especially offended by the “behind the veil” talk, telling EW “The veil connotes and is equated to oppression, you are in an oppressive land with oppressive people and the veil is just a part of that.” Er, if you’re a kidnapped girl in Saudi Arabia, that might be equated with oppression.
This story had a longer plot summary, explaining the writer had a military and NSA background (uh-oh again):
“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.”