BBC's Bodyguard is being accused of being Islamophobic and perpetuating female Muslim stereotypes. pic.twitter.com/w9FT95nfyV— The Muslim Vibe (@themuslimvibe) September 25, 2018
In early June, ABC issued a rare apology after its popular crime drama “Quantico” featured Hindu nationalists in India trying to frame neighboring country, Pakistan, in a terrorist plot.
The episode sparked online outrage against Indian actor, Priyanka Chopra, who plays a lead role in the show.
The U.S. television studio admitted while the series had portrayed "antagonists of many different ethnicities and backgrounds," it "regrettably stepped into a complex political issue."
Nearly three months down the lane, an equally popular British drama, "The Bodyguard," also featured a terrorism storyline in its season finale, however, this one, didn't involve Hindu nationalists -- it was about Muslim extremists.
But that wasn't the only difference.
While ABC apologized for the "complex" episode, following widespread outrage, BBC has not, despite widespread outrage.
Just finished binge watching #Bodyguard and it was brilliant and was gripping. Apart from when they spoilt it in the end with stereotyping with Muslims with terrorism. They really didn't need to do that! ???????That just disapointed me— Shereen Browne (@SweetGyal_83) September 26, 2018
The disgraceful and dangerous portrayal of Muslim women as manipulative terrorists in BBC's #Bodyguard should not go unchallenged. It is lazy representations like this which create and sustain Islamophobic violence against Muslim women.#bodyguard— Michael Mumisa (@MichaelMumisa) September 23, 2018
well done BBC #Bodyguard for ruining a great series right at the end by only furthering a negative racial stereotype against Muslims ????— Daniel Parkinson (@D_Parkinson21) September 23, 2018
The worst part is I bet those minds involved in this “surprising” finale thought they were being really smart by “challenging” the stereotype of oppressed Muslim woman by instead depicting her with er... another stereotype of being a terrorist. No. Just no. #Bodyguard @theriztest— Shelina Janmohamed (@loveinheadscarf) September 23, 2018
Quite annoyed with the #Bodyguard finale tbf. Just feels like lazy writing. Inevitably perpetuating the same stereotype we thought it was shattering and further fuelling islamaphobia / hatred towards Muslims and (by extension) the entire South Asian community. Nice work.— Antonio Aakeel (@AntonioAakeel) September 23, 2018
Here's a brief summary of the controversial plot: A white British male bodyguard, formerly an Afghanistan war veteran, successfully prevents a suicide attack, the perpetrator of which, initially, appeared to be a hijab-clad Muslim woman, who had bombs strapped to her vest. It later transpired that she was, in fact, a vulnerable victim and the white British bodyguard, ultimately, saves everyone.
Now, people acquainted with the Western entertainment industry are well-aware of the fact that here are two major stereotypes involving Muslim women;
1) the weak and oppressed, and
2) the terrorist.
The Sept.23 season finale of The Bodyguard featured both.
And it was a hit, apparently.
Around 11 million people tuned in to the last five minutes of the episode. No other BBC drama except Doctor Who in 2008, with 11.7 viewers, managed to attract a similar amount of viewers.
It's disturbing to see how an episode that reinforced negative stereotypes about a particular religion attracted a record number of viewers at a time in a country where Islamophobia is soaring and you read headlines like:
It's even more disturbing to note that it wasn't the first time that such an episode aired on BBC.
Previously, in 2012, another smash hit BBC TV series, "Sherlock," featured an episode in which they portrayed Karachi, a city in Pakistan, a Southeast Asian Muslim-majority country, as a medieval region where Muslim terrorists rode on camels in the desert and forced women to don long black robes called "burka."
The depiction was as misguided as it was offensive.
Here's why: Karachi is a metropolitan city where it's certainly not common to see terrorists riding camels in the desert. In fact, Karachi is not even a desert. Also, women there are not forced to wear the burka.
However, it's not just BBC.
Muslim characters have long been portrayed as perpetrators religiously-motivated violence in both television and film, be it American or British. And unlike the case of Qunatico's Hindu terror plot, not a single writer or filmmaker or company has ever issued an apology, so far.
British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed addressed the issue in a powerful statement in March 2017:
“In the mind of the Isis recruit, he’s the next James Bond right? Have you seen some of those Isis propaganda videos, they are cut like action movies,” he said during a Channel 4 address. “Where is the counter-narrative?"
“Where are we telling these kids they can be heroes in our stories, that they are valued? If we don’t step up and tell a representative story… we are going to start losing British teenagers to the story that the next chapter in their lives is written with Isis in Syria," he added.
There are around 1.6 billion Muslims in the world and Muslim women across the world are not only working as writers, doctors, lawyers, architects and politicians, but also thriving in their respective professions.
It's 2018 and about time we got to see more of them on the big and small screens.
Banner/Thumbnail Credits: Photo by Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images