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By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor
Los Angeles (CNN) – For years, Ahmed Ahmed’s acting resume apprehend like a rap sheet.
His aboriginal blur role was Agitator No. 4 in “Executive Decision.”
His aboriginal ball part: Hakeem, a terrorist, on “Roseanne.”
“I accomplished there was a big bazaar out there for arena bad Arabs,” the amateur said with a acerb laugh.
Born in Egypt and aloft in Riverside, California, Ahmed – a friendly, round-faced guy – carries no trace of an emphasis and doesn’t attending decidedly sinister.
But he said he was rarely brash for genitalia arena doctors, attorneys … or anything, really, but alarming Muslims during the aboriginal canicule of his career.
Meanwhile, a crusade to Mecca, the airy home of Islam, pricked his conscience. He acquainted responsible, in some baby way, for the agitated images of Islam advertisement beyond American screens.
“I accomplished I was acceptable a bondservant to the industry,” Ahmed said.
The role in which the amateur was consistently cast, an Islamic extremist, has become about as accustomed a Hollywood cliché as the blue-blooded aboriginal or gold-hearted hooker.
In films and television shows from “24” to “Syriana,” Muslims are the olive-skinned evildoers who blind their agitated schemes in religious abode while cursing their American adversaries.
Ahmed capital no allotment of that anymore. He abdicate Hollywood and went aback to cat-and-mouse tables, area he compensated for the bad aliment with a bonhomie that would bloom into a standup ball act.
Fast advanced to 2014, and Ahmed, who turns 44 this month, is starring in “Sullivan & Son,” a abominable TBS ball that revels – or wallows, if you like – in political incorrectness. (CNN and TBS are both endemic by Time Warner.)
Yes, his appearance – a hapless tow-truck disciplinarian additionally alleged Ahmed – endures a cringe-worthy battery of indigenous jokes.
But it’s a assurance of progress, in his view, for Ahmed to be brash as accomplished for badinage as the blow of the multiethnic assemblage on “Sullivan & Son,” one of the few sitcoms to affection an Arab-American Muslim who is a character, not a caricature.
“I don’t acquire to be the ‘Arab guy’ or the ‘Muslim guy,’” Ahmed said. “Those things achromatize into the background, and I’m aloof a approved guy.”
For decades, Ahmed and added Muslims say, Hollywood has put their acceptance actual abundant in the foreground, generally casting in an apocalyptic light.
After 9/11, the allocation alone increased, experts and activists say, abnormally for actors of Middle Eastern or Southeast Asian descent.
“When Hollywood dealt with Muslim characters it was absolutely one-dimensional,” said Arsalan Iftikhar, an American biographer and bookish who blogs at TheMuslimGuy.com. “They were the barmy terrorists, afterwards any array of adorning attributes.”
But American Muslims may be assuredly smashing the silver-screen stereotypes.
Groups like the Muslim Public Diplomacy Board argue on screenplays, alternation Muslim writers and affix arrangement honchos with alpha talent.
Young Muslims are bearing their own projects, with the Internet as their all-around flat and audience.
And Muslim actors don’t aloof ball terrorists anymore: They ball presidents and “Star Trek” captains.
It’s not aloof about landing dank acting roles, American Muslims say.
How Hollywood sees Islam influences the blow of the country and carries deep implications for civilian liberties, adopted action and interfaith relations.
“Intentionally or unintentionally, images advise bodies whom to fear, whom to hate, and whom to love,” writes Jack Shaheen, a longtime academic of how the media depicts Muslims.
Billionaires, bombers and abdomen dancers
Hollywood’s added circuitous assuming of Islam flickered beyond American screens this accomplished Tuesday, aback Ahmed’s “Sullivan & Son” began its third division and Fox debuted a new alternation from a ambassador of “24” and “Homeland.”
“Tyrant,” a drama, follows a California pediatrician aback to his fabulous Middle-Eastern homeland, area his ancestor is a barbarous dictator.
The plot, ambassador Howard Gordon says, is modeled on the Arab Spring and real-life tyrants like Moammar Gadhafi.
“To acquire the befalling to acquaint a adventure about bodies and put faces on the things that are alone account acquainted aloof too acceptable to ignore,” Gordon told Indiewire.
It’s the aforementioned ripped-from-the-news compound that brought the Hollywood adept analytical and bartering success with “Homeland” and “24.”
But Gordon’s assignment has been controversial, alike “Islamophobic,” according to some Muslim groups, for its delineation of their adoration as abounding with terrorists.
“Tyrant” displays some of the aforementioned problems, the Board on American-Islamic Relations complained afterwards a screening in Washington this month.
“If the alone affair you saw or heard about the Middle East was watching ‘Tyrant,’ you’d appear abroad saying, ‘Man, what a agglomeration of savages. They deserve whatever they get,’” said Ibrahim Hooper, abettor for the Board on American-Islamic Relations.
Shaheen, columnist of “Reel Bad Arabs” and added media studies, already said that Arab Muslims are bound to three roles in Hollywood: billionaires, bombers and abdomen dancers.
“In ‘Tyrant,’ you get aggregate but the abdomen dancers,” Hooper said.
Secular critics weren’t abundant kinder.
Washington Post TV analyzer Hank Stuever alleged “Tyrant” a “stultifyingly acted TV ball abounding with annoyed and awfully ample notions of Muslim culture.”
Gordon’s abettor said he could not be accomplished for comment.
But Salam Al-Marayati, admiral of the Muslim Public Diplomacy Council, which consulted on “Tyrant” scripts, said the appearance doesn’t present Islam or the Middle East as a monolith. What’s more, “Tyrant,” can admonition Americans acquire the plight of Muslims who ache beneath the barbarous aphorism of dictators, he said.
“Twenty or 30 years ago, a appearance like `Tyrant’ would acquire angry into a clash-of-civilizations plotline. With Howard, it’s about the animal ambit and amusing realities, and how anybody is amenable for creating tyrants.”
Al-Marayati said he considers Gordon a accomplice who takes MPAC’s suggestions seriously.
For example, the “Tyrant” calligraphy was afflicted to accomplish bright that one character’s poor analysis of women does not acquire from Islam, Al-Marayati said.
“We fabricated the point that it’s not adoration that drives this behavior,” Al-Marayati said. “It’s a claimed choice.”
Gordon has said the Muslim Public Diplomacy Board had a “significant impact” on “Tyrant” from the alpha of production.
“I approved to abode their apropos apropos cultural inaccuracies and potentially damaging characterizations,” he told The Daily Beast. “I may not consistently acquire been absolutely successful, but the chat has consistently been accessible and fluid.”
The accord amid the board and Gordon wasn’t consistently so rosy.
The Muslim board opened its Hollywood agency afterwards 9/11 to adverse abrogating images of Islam in accustomed culture. Division four of “24,” which advertisement in 2005, was one of its better tests.
The artifice centered on a acutely nice, common Muslim-American ancestors who were secretly artful to barrage a nuclear advance on the United States.
The board was one of several Muslim groups anxious about the sleeper-cell adventure line.
“They were creating this abstraction in people’s minds that your neighbor, who you anticipate is a doctor and has a admirable home, is absolutely acute an advance on the country,” explained Deana Nassar, the council’s Hollywood liaison.
“It was a actual alarming indictment.”
Members of the board met with the shows producers, including Gordon, to aback their concerns.
Initially, the “24” aggregation resisted the council’s entreaties, citation artistic license, until they accomplished that their show might put absolute Muslims in danger, said Nassar.
Fox agreed to run a abnegation afore anniversary adventure of “24,” advertence that American Muslims accuse terrorism. Added importantly, the board said, “24” began to affection added Muslim “good guys” and beneath Islamic terrorists.
“’24’ is a big success adventure for us,” Nassar said.
But others weren’t so sure.
Shaheen, the media scholar, said the abnegation afore “24” was laughable, and the accession of added absorbing characters was a asinine sop to appease Muslims.
“It was like, ‘OK, we vilified you in seasons four and bristles but now we’ll accomplish it up to you,” he said.
Al-Marayati and added Muslims accede that avant-garde Islam faces different challenges. Agitator groups like al Qaeda and Boko Haram weren’t dreamed up by screenwriters. They are absolute threats to all-embracing security.
The board said its ambition isn’t to abolish all abrogating images of Islam in Hollywood. It’s to actuate producers and writers to accommodate balanced, authentic and nuanced angle of Muslims in their work. And it hasn’t been easy.
“Hollywood still has a continued way to go to acculturate Muslims,” Al-Marayati acknowledged. “But we acquire to alpha somewhere. We can’t aloof bandy up our easily and debris to engage.”
From Aladdin to Alice
Few Muslim groups appoint Hollywood as abundant as the Muslim Public Diplomacy Council, which has congenital relationships with flat admiral at all four above networks, and consulted on shows from “Seventh Heaven” to “Bones.”
More recently, the board brash “Project X-Ray,” an accessible blur about Guantanamo Bay, and a activity with amateur Forest Whitaker about a Muslim blackmailer adjusting to activity alfresco prison.
Even aback the Muslim board acutely disagrees with a television appearance or film, it generally calls for consultation, rather than cancellation.
“It’s actual important for us not to act like watchdogs,” Nassar said, “because we don’t appetite to abash admiral from accomplishing belief about Arabs and Muslims.”
Still, chat of a contempo ABC activity alleged “Alice in Arabia” prompted a quick alarm from Nassar to arrangement executives.
According to ABC, “Alice” was to be a affecting alternation about an American jailbait who gets kidnapped and taken to Saudi Arabia, area she copes with life “behind the veil.”
Many American Muslims said the show’s apriorism “reinforces old racist tropes” about dark-skinned men aggressive white women.
This cheep appealing abundant sums up the sentiment.
ABC bound canceled the show, adage that the “conversation” about “Alice in Arabia” was “not what we envisioned” and “certainly not accessory to the artistic process.”
To Nassar, an ball advocate by training, the “Alice” adventure admonition her of watching “Aladdin” as a child.
The Disney movie, which takes abode in a fabulous sultanate, presented Arab ability as a “whole new world” afar from Nassar’s home in California.
“I admired that movie, and I was like, ‘Wow, that’s area my bodies appear from?’ It’s so alarming and mysterious,’” Nassar said.
“But the the time is over for America to attending at that abode and its bodies as abstruse and exotic. We’re here. We’re in America. We’re so chip in this association that you apperceive we’re the same.”
Muslims are not alone chip in the United States, they’re awful accustomed here, according to studies.
More than 80% of Muslims say they are annoyed with their lives in this country, according to Gallup surveys, which additionally appearance that alone American Jews acquire college apprenticeship levels.
The country’s estimated 3 amateur to 6 amateur Muslims are congressmen, business leaders, doctors, lawyers, and, increasingly, actors and filmmakers.
“The millennial bearing is starting to advance aback on their parents’ artifice of career choices,” said Iftikhar of TheMuslimGuy.com. “There are added Muslim artists, actors, academics, writers and comedians.”
And, with the admonition of groups like the Muslim Public Diplomacy Council, they’re authoritative appropriate in awful aggressive Tinseltown.
Earlier this month, for example, the board partnered with the Disney/ABC Television Group to host a screenwriters’ workshop.
Thirty-five adolescent Muslim writers activated for a atom by autograph sample scripts for their admired shows; a dozen were accepted.
At the daylong event, ABC admiral and a dozen adolescent Muslim men and women, a few in bright headscarves, awash about a continued table at the council’s Los Angeles office.
(The branch was bankrupt to the media, but the board beatific a description and photos, and affiliated CNN with participants.)
The Hollywood assembly offered admonition on how to address acute stories, angle projects and get acceptable gigs on flat lots.
“It’s a adventure to assignment in this business,” Tim McNeal, ABC’s arch of artistic aptitude development, told the writers, according to a account appear by the council.
“We are actuality to admonition you forth your journey. If you acquire to assignment in a artistic amplitude in television, amuse anticipate of us as a resource.”
Hala Alsaman, an Iraqi-Canadian who activated for the branch with a “spec” calligraphy on “Mad Men,” said she accepted the autograph tips, but the adventitious to arrangement with ABC admiral was alike added valuable.
The allowances abaft the branch can run both ways, the Muslim board and ABC said. Muslims get a articulation at the writers’ table, and networks can tap into new and assorted aptitude pools.
“If we get alike one actuality central Hollywood who can be a antecedent of acceptable advice about Muslims, that’s our goal,” Al-Marayati said.
But the advice antecedent doesn’t consistently acquire to be screenwriters. Sometimes the actors can change the scripts as well.
A Muslim president
Those e-mail chains forwarded from your grandmother are right: America has had a Muslim president.
His name is Faran Tahir, and he played Admiral Patel in the 2013 sci-fi flick “Elysium.”
The 50-year-old amateur additionally may be the aboriginal South Asian casting into alien space. He played Capt. Robau in J.J. Abrams’ 2009 “Star Trek” reboot.
Yes, both plots are fictional, but they’re not trivial, Tahir said.
“The movies ability be futuristic. But the actuality sitting in the theaters has to acquire it as a possibility.”
Tahir didn’t acquire an accessible alley in Hollywood. There weren’t abounding roles for Pakistani-American actors 30 years ago. He couldn’t acquisition advisers or authority bottomward an apartment. He lived in his car for a while.
But Tahir congenital up his chops by acting in plays while cat-and-mouse for blur and television roles to crawl in, and axis bottomward parts when they acquainted too abundant like typecasting.
Those oversimplifications often resulted from laziness, not an anti-Islamic agenda, the amateur said, and Muslims charge bethink that sometimes stereotypes are accurate.
“If a appearance is actuality based on accepted affairs, let’s not balloon that in this war on agitation there are bodies who are accomplishing some abhorrent things,” Tahir said.
The actor estimates that he’s played bristles or six Muslim terrorists during the accomplished 15 years, but he’s additionally played radiologists, principals and sci-fi characters.
“Things are absolutely starting to change,” Tahir said. “We’ve been in this ability continued enough. We’ve been through what anybody abroad has been through.”
The amateur himself was the antecedent of one big change in his best acclaimed role to date, arena the villain in the 2008 blur “Iron Man.”
The calligraphy alleged for his character, Raza, to be a Muslim terrorist. “That would acquire been accomplished if the cine was about accepted affairs,” Tahir said. “But it’s a superhero movie. Why would we acquire to accompany in such a acute subject?”
The amateur said the “Iron Man” producers agreed and bare the religious references from the script. Tahir wasn’t the alone Muslim-American amateur to account from the revisions.
Ahmed Ahmed, the amateur who already abdicate Hollywood, was casting as one of Tahir’s adolescent mercenaries.
He said he still had some advisedly about arena a dark-skinned villain, but the adventitious to be allotment of a blockbuster cine was too acceptable to about-face down.
Ahmed said he’s additionally started to booty allocation beneath seriously. He afresh starred in a “Funny or Die” abbreviate blur about “How to be a Agitator – in Hollywood.”
“It’s gotten so out of ascendancy with the biased depictions of the Middle East,” he said, “we ability as able-bodied try to acquire some fun with it.”
But as he collection assimilate the Warner Bros. lot on a contempo morning, all-embracing diplomacy were far from Ahmed’s mind.
Twenty years ago he was a disturbing actor, animadversion about the aforementioned flat lot, aloof aggravating to acquisition a job.
Now, the third division of “Sullivan & Son” was about to air, and the amateur was basic for a actor ball bout with adolescent casting members. It took a continued time, but by his lights, he’s fabricated it in Hollywood.
“I’m still arena an Arab character,” he said with a laugh, “but I’m not arena a terrorist!”
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