I have a confession to make: Although I know that some people use the movie True Lies as an example of when Hollywood portrays Muslims/Arabs in an offensive manner, I like that movie and will watch it if I come across it while flipping the channels on the TV. I can’t help it, I find it entertaining. Sorry. I’m watching the latest season of 24 too. /confession
Generally speaking though, I want to give a TV show or movie that is maybe meant to be anti-Muslim a chance just to make sure that whatever critique I may have isn’t just some knee-jerk reaction. That’s where Tyrant comes in.
The first time I saw a commercial for FX’s new show Tyrant, I didn’t even know what it was. There was just a bunch of sand blowing around a desert and then the words TYRANT graced the screen. The premise is this – the son of the ruler of the country Abbudin (a fictional Arab country), who has been living in the United States for 20 years, returns to his home country with his family to attend his nephew’s wedding. Hilarity ensues! Well, not really.
Anyways, I had wanted to check out the first episode that aired tonight, especially since I heard about some cliches that the show incorporated surrounding its Muslim Arab characters.
I’ll be honest, I thought it was rather boring and I didn’t care for it at all. But I don’t want to give a review of the show as there are plenty of reviews out there so I just have a few thoughts…
I read a lot about how the actor who plays the main character isn’t even Middle Eastern but a white British actor. It can’t be that bad, I thought to myself. But yeah, it kind of is. Everyone else looks Middle-Eastern-ish and there he is, Bassam aka “Barry”, who doesn’t look remotely Arab and doesn’t even have a hint of an accent. I honestly thought he and his brother were like night and day.
And “Barry”, the name he goes by in the States, just doesn’t fit. A lot of people anglicize their names, I’m not going to judge, but “Barry” from “Bassam”? That doesn’t even work. Why couldn’t it have been “Bill” from “Bilal” or “Bob” from “Babber” (did you see what I did there?) or anything else? I know, I know, minor. The problem is though there a lot of minor issues that add up to make the show seem a bit ludicrous. For example, one annoyance that has been pointed out many times is the fact that the Arabs don’t speak Arabic with each other, even when there are no Americans around. You’re telling me an Arab ruler gave a speech to his subjects in accented English? Sure, bro, sure.
In the end, besides the fact that Tyrant is a bit of a snoozer, it doesn’t do Muslims and Arabs any favors. And that’s an issue, especially when Bassam is the voice of calm – he’s filled with Western ideals! – to counteract his brother’s rageholic behavior. That’s going to be a problem if they continue in that manner and from what I read, that’s how it is. That’s too bad.
Check out this article that really talks about everything that needs to be said about this show: Why it matters that FX’s ‘Tyrant’ didn’t cast a Middle Eastern actor in its lead role.
Random note: You know what would have been interesting? If, to go along with a fictional country, the citizens followed a fictional religion. Like Bokononism.