ABC’s Quantico fits all the parameters for a “diverse” show. There are four actresses who are not white, and two of the actors are playing openly gay characters. One of the characters even wears hijab! Too bad the premise is pretty Islamophobic from the start. Islamophobia is the dislike and prejudice of Islam and Muslims used as a political force, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
Islamophobia also encompasses the actions and practices that attack, exclude or discriminate against Muslims and anything associated with Islam. And for anyone following along, that includes attacks against those who “look” Muslim, mosques, and religious items like the Florida Qu’ran burnings. Additionally, Islamophobia leads to a fear that all Muslims are terrorists and post-9/11 has created tension between Muslims and everyone else in America.
Quantico, which stars Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra as one of many young FBI recruits who goes on to be suspected of masterminding the biggest terror attack on New York City since 9/11, builds on that fear and tension.
Chopra herself stated that she only took the part because she wanted to be cast as an ethnically ambiguous character after turning down characters who were all exotic and hypnotizing. Even so– and this is something she should know after growing up in America– people are still going to pin Alex Parrish down as Indian, or worse as a stand in for Pakistani and Iraqi women who were terrorists in the real world.
Even more unfortunate is that Priyanka Chopra also took a role in Bollywood as Indian boxer Mary Kom, whom she looks nothing like, ultimately perpetuating the same kind of racism that Hollywood is guilty of when casting ambiguous Asians. Chopra wore prosthetic eyelids and had makeup done by Hollywood artists to look more like Kom who is from Manipur!
So Chopra’s assertion that the role was free from stereotypes does nothing to assuage my worries about this show being the usual stereotypical dramas like Homeland or 24. Additionally Chopra did not live in America as an adult and has no idea what kind of racism Muslims and South Asians currently face. Her only frame of reference is from when she was young and before 9/11.
At least there’s comfort in knowing that hijab-wearing Nimah isn’t the first suspect of the terrorist attack on New York City. Though I wonder just how many Muslims choose freely to join the FBI in the first place, considering the FBI’s wonderful Islamophobic training. Apparently, charity, one of the five pillars of Islam, is a “funding mechanism for combat.” It has to be obvious why Muslims and South Asians are wary about the show.
Quantico will be just as action-packed and thrilling as what ABC is likely competing against– that is, shows like The Blacklist and now The Player— but nothing about it is exciting to me. It is worse knowing that the only way I will get to see a hijab-wearing character is if they join an organization that has had a hand in destroying the lives of many Muslims, both abroad and at home, because of terrible training and understandings of Islam.
Maybe in a month, when Quantico airs, none of this will matter and the show will actually be really good and not portray all Muslims as terrorists and suspects. I’m not holding out hope.
Hello! I’m Shahar, a Muslim feminist with Sufi influence. I have feelings about everything from social justice and politics to fairy tales and fashion. Mostly I just watch ridiculous amounts of TV and tumblr about media issues and representation.