Representation in television and film allows people to feel that they belong. Luckily, we have seen various representations of Muslims in recent years. However, there has been recent controversy with several television shows and movies portraying the ‘real’ picture of Muslim women.
The Muslim community now feels as if they have gone from being mainly invisible to being regularly portrayed as oppressed individuals in film and television. Particularly, Netflix shows such as Cuties and Elite push the narrative of Muslim women needing to be freed from their ‘oppressive’ religion.
Netflix teen drama Elite tells the story of working-class siblings Omar and Nadia, who are sent to a private school. To attract the white student, Nadia, who is Muslim, removes her hijab and drinks alcohol. The director portrays her walking into the club as a guy watches in admiration. What causes concern is that Muslim women must remove the veil and rebel against their disapproving parents to be empowered.
In Elite, Nadia completes all the stereotypes – an oppressed girl wanting a white knight. Acted by Moroccan-Spanish actress Mina el Hammani, Nadia constantly revolts against her conservative Muslim family by drinking or having sexual contact with a Christian man in the name of freedom. Netflix continuously uses this recurring theme instead of using real Muslim women to present their struggles on the screen.
Netflix was also criticized for the French film Cuties, which centers around an 11-year-old French-Senegalese Amy seeking to rebel from her traditional Muslim family. This defiance is comparable to Nadia’s. Amy is an 11-year-old Black Muslim in France who wants to be ‘liberated’ from her religion. The dancing in the movie was twerking, and many felt that she was hypersexualized.
As a Muslim, I am aware that some Muslim women take off their hijab for their reasons, while others are content with wearing one. What is important to note is that portraying characters such as Nadia and Amy through their religion, rather than their individualities, establishes the idea that Muslim women are only concerned about their faith.
“In these television shows, I was looking for girls like me to be seen and heard, or valued in some way,” said Thasmin Khan, a Muslim who wears the veil and attends Thomas A. CTE High School.
“I haven’t ever related to any Muslim on any show ever,” said Sarah Yaqoob, a Muslim hijabi who attends Thomas A. CTE High School. She feels as though they’re nothing like any actual Muslims she’s ever known.
“You see a lot of Muslim women taking their headscarves off for a guy,” said Raisa Rahman, who also identifies as a Muslim.
Cuties and Elite are just a few of the many examples of Islamophobia on the screen, which asks if Netflix recognizes the weight of what they are creating. Streaming services should acknowledge their role in contributing to how the world perceives us.