x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Jack Bauer and the Muslim character

Hollywood's attitudes towards the Muslim world are becoming more nuanced, though there is still more work to be done.

What do the executive producer for television programmes including 24 and The X Files and the Obama administration's adviser on faith have in common? A lot, it turns out.  Both captured the imagination of the Writers Guild of America with presentations in 2008 on the myths surrounding Islam in popular culture. Mr Obama's adviser, Dalia Mogahed, surprised many with her book Who Speaks For Islam? while Howard Gordon, who produced 24 - including seasons that featured Muslim terrorists - shared lessons from activists who disagreed with his portrayals. Mr Gordon came to understand the social consequences of the characters he had created, and the climate of fear and suspicion that his story-lines could contribute to.

As The National reported yesterday, the Muslim Public Affairs Council has played its part in facing down stereotypes in the media. Muslims On Screen and Television (MOST) was formed; not as a way of converting Hollywood, as Lauren Levy, the creative executive at Miramax said, but "instead, they want to work with writers, producers, show-runners, agents on their own terms... to create more balanced, diverse and authentic characters and themes".

Inroads are also being made in the GCC. Cynthia Schneider, the director of MOST, is working with the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage to create cultural diplomacy programmes, while the Qatar Foundation's forthcoming film production on the 13th-century Sufi philosopher Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi will star the Academy Award winners Al Pacino and Daniel Day-Lewis. Another Doha-based media company, the Alnoor Fund, is raising $150 million for a new film about the Prophet Mohammed and has signed on the producer Barrie Osborne of The Lord of the Rings and The Matrix.

These ambitions have begun to pay off. In a final, searing scene of 24, an emotional reconciliation occurs between the show's protaganist, Jack Bauer, and a suspected Muslim terrorist. The man Bauer had been pursuing, who has a heavy Gulf accent, is actually innocent. This scene, and others like it, form one drop in an ocean that challenges prevailing attitudes.