For the past few years, amidst campaigns like #OscarsSoWhite and a general discontent about the underrepresentation of marginalized communities in media, television has become a bit of a haven—a place where stories of black professors, Taiwanese families, and Pakistani-American murder suspects can live much more easily than on the big screen. Unfortunately, TV is far from a utopia, as an interview in Vulture with producer, religious scholar, and TV personality Reza Aslan revealed.
There don’t seem to be many positive, normal portrayals of Middle Eastern and Muslim families on television. According to Azlan, however, ABC was about to change that, until Donald Trump came to power.
Azlan told Vulture that ABC had bought an untitled comedy series about an Iranian-American family from him. But, he claimed, it was dropped following Trump's election. Gee, I wonder why? In the interview Aslan, best known for suffering through one of the most painful Fox News interviews ever (and also now for apparently eating human brains on his new CNN show Believer), said:
I think TV execs are very reactive. I was creating a Muslim-American family comedy for ABC, which is a great example, because there was an enormous amount of enthusiasm for the show until Donald Trump won the presidency, and then at the highest level, there was a real decision to start to figure out how to appeal to what they erroneously saw as some new wave of red-state Americans…and so we were just simply thrown aside — our show went away.
As interviewer Gazelle Emami pointed out, ABC has stated that it plans to focus on working-class Americans. Since this pivot from the network came as a direct response to Trump's election, it's not an outlandish thing to assume that it means white working-class Americans. It's an interesting direction, seeing as our president has surrounded himself with white nationalists who aim to undermine the sort of cultural strides that ABC's more inclusive programming symbolizes.
Aslan went on to mention that many Muslim-American actors and comedians like Nasim Pedrad, Aasif Mandvi, Hasan Minhaj, and others have been working on their own projects, but the general air of increasing Islamophobia has made their task more difficult. Still, he has hope:
I think as soon as one of us breaks through and people realize, oh, there’s an audience for this, you’ll see the floodgates open. That’s what TV has always been like. One person realizes it works and then everybody wants to do it.
Hopefully someone can break through sooner than later, because between Homeland and the 24 reboot, television is overdue for an actual, compassionate, and realistic portrayal of Muslim Americans. We reached out to both ABC and Aslan for a comment on this and will update as soon as we hear back.