Three ingenious graffiti artists managed to sneak a few messages onto the set of last Sunday's episode of Homeland that the show runners definitely did not approve:
Messages like "Homeland is racist" and "Homeland is a joke, and it didn't make us laugh," appear in Arabic script on the walls of the fictional Syrian refugee camp featured in the episode, expressing what some viewers have been thinking for years.
Artists Heba Amin, Caram Kapp and Stone were approached by show runners this summer "to lend graffiti authenticity" to the episode, they wrote in a blog post.
"Given the series’ reputation we were not easily convinced, until we considered what a moment of intervention could relay about our own and many others’ political discontent with the series," they wrote. "It was our moment to make our point by subverting the message using the show itself."
They said the show runners first gave them pictures of graffiti with pro-Assad messages as a suggestion of what kind of work they thought was realistic. Given that the set was supposed to be a refugee camp mainly for people who had fled the Assad regime this was, to put it lightly, a strange suggestion. The artists wrote:
Our instructions were: (1) the graffiti has to be apolitical (2) you cannot copy the images because of copyright infringement (3) writing “Mohamed is the greatest, is okay of course”
Homeland creator Alex Gansa told Deadline, “We wish we’d caught these images before they made it to air. However, as Homeland always strives to be subversive in its own right and a stimulus for conversation, we can’t help but admire this act of artistic sabotage.”
The artists said the fact that they managed to get their messages on the show demonstrates how out of touch the creators are. "In their eyes, Arabic script is merely a supplementary visual that completes the horror-fantasy of the Middle East, a poster image dehumanizing an entire region to human-less figures in black burkas and moreover, this season, to refugees," they wrote in the blog post.
Homeland has long been criticized for being racist and Islamophobic, with often inaccurate depictions of Islam and a view of muslims as monocultural and dangerous. Former Marine Corp Sniper Nicholas Brody's conversion to Islam is treated as a fundamental reason to question his trustworthiness. The Lebanese tourism minister actually threatened to sue the show over its depiction of a popular cafe district in Beirut as a terrorist meeting spot (the scene was actually filmed in Israel).
"All the standard stereotypes about Islam and Muslims are reinforced, and it is demonstrated ad nauseam that anyone marked as “Muslim” by race or creed can never be trusted," wrote Laila Al-Arian in Salon.
And then there was this poster, advertising the show's season four premier last year:
"A blonde, white Red Riding Hood lost in a forest of faceless Muslim wolves," as the Washington Post described it. Which is not only problematic because our white, blonde heroine stands as a beacon of light and knowledge among the shrouded masses, but also because it reduces Muslim women to faceless, passive bodies, oppressed by their garments. Which are also not great, because they're a sort of mish-mash of different styles of Islamic women's clothing, once again sending the dull and frankly bigoted message that the entire Islamic world is pretty much the same.
It's a shame most of the show's audience probably didn't pick up on the artists' messages while watching the episode. But maybe from now on we'll look a little closer at what exactly this show is trying to say about the world.