Oh Tyrant…

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.

10 thoughts

  1. You are not alone, I watch 24 too. Let me also add here that I really like the show Homeland. I think the story lines and actors do a good job, apart from all the stereotypes and clear bias.

    That said, I think I will skip Tyrant.

    1. I did watch Homeland season 1 to check it out. It wasn’t really for me so I haven’t continued it but yeah, sometimes one wants to just be entertained! Which is why it’s good you’ll skip Tyrant :)

  2. I really enjoyed this post. The writing was smooth and witty and I don’t think I would watch Tyrant anyway. I just finished watching, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and was blown away by the overt racism in the character played by Mickey Rooney. I also just heard of a show on TV called, Matador. Not racist, but about a guy who is a pro soccer player in L.A. who moonlights as a secret agent at night. Where is this lack of creativity coming from ?

    Keep writing.

    1. I agree – there’s a definite lack of creativity out there! That’s why I love the show Orphan Black, which had me hooked 3 minutes in the first episode in the first season. I realized though that I’m watching less TV in general because there’s not much out there that’s worth spending time on!

  3. awful tv show seriously how did this end up on tv btw i think it is a comedy. why isnt there any arabic in tv. the speech at the beginning in english OMFGG lOOOL

  4. Thank you so much for the thoughtful review, in the middle of so many knee jerk reactions. I got a lot from it, especially where you noted the dumb stuff, like Mr. America playing Bassam, or Arabs talking to Arabs in English, well, that always happens when you make English television about another country. On Star Trek everyone speaks English too, even on distant planets. In Monster Zero, the aliens speak Japanese (its a Japanese movie). Hollywood knows something true – Americans will not tolerate subtitles the way people in other countries do. I think the really big mistake is the lead actor looking unconvincing, but Hollywood has a really bad tendency to protect the jobs of white actors.

    I like Tyrant, but I like political thrillers a lot, and Tyrant is very a much a standard political thriller. Question – Does Shakespeare’s MacBeth spread bad stereotypes about Scottish people? Does Richard III makes us think England is a place of dirty politics, and despise the brutal culture of England? I don’t see Jamal as the brutish Arab man, but as the standard type you see in many politcal and royal thrillers. Perhaps he is Caligula, but do we complain Caligula spreads bad stereotypes of Romans? If the actor is white, do we complain Caligula spreads bad stereotypes of white people?

    Underrepresented groups led by activists want the POSITIVE stereotypes, that are still stereotypes. The virtuous Arab Woman who sacrifices everything for her family. The Virtuous, Perfect Arab Man that only does good and the right thing. that is not drama or theater, it is political propaganda. Drama needs bad people to make the conflict something rich and human. But, end of the day, are you interested? Probably newer for me to have this story in this locale, but old hat for you. Just a matter of perspective. Enjoy your day!

    1. Thanks for taking the time for leaving your comment! I can’t speak for everyone, but I don’t necessarily want our people to be portrayed with positive stereotypes because honestly, that makes things boring and preachy! I want to see people just be normal and I think that’s the problem – folks can’t understand that these people are just regular people too!

      Btw, and I’m going to go all nerd for a minute so I apologize, but I remember this one episode of either Star Trek TNG or DS9 where the universal translator on the ship wasn’t working. So it’s not that everyone speaks English, but everyone is fitted with a universal translator! I guess it’s a lot like the Babel fish in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy :)

      1. Lovely! It is hard to do a good story with nontraditional/underrepresented people. Hollywood hammers you into a cliche, while the activists are angry you did not follow their propaganda. I am a very, very independent artist as a result.

        And I love Star Trek, but they get pretty bad with the convenient super science explanations. I am very fond of the aliens in Inoshiro Honda’s Monster Zero. If all aliens speak English, then the people of Planet X should speak Japanese (makes sense to me). I think you could film Frank Dune’s Dune in Arabic very easily and lose nothing. My Sci-Fi favorite is Neon Genesis Evangelion (Japanese) and I absolutely cannot watch it with super cheap English dubbing after listening to the Japanese. It loses “gravitas” which is key to Evangelion. Language is a funny thing.

        What I don’t get, is if Jamal is speaking Arabic to his family, but in English, why does he have an accent in his English version of Arabic? But, end of the day, Actors of Middle Eastern origin are doing a great job on Tyrant, a job opportunity that is very rare in White Hollywood for actors. Hopefully that will lead to the better things. I want to see Hollywood production values put to use telling the story of Saladin, but Hollywood would never get it right. Not yet. They would never green light an Arabic writer and director and give them the necessary independence.

        On my site I have gotten visitors from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Lebanon, Ukraine, Russia, China, Japan, Korea, UK, France, Germany, and many other countries (half my total visitors, about 1000 every six months and growing.). I try very hard for a G or PG rating and a nice story for everyone to enjoy, for General Audiences by design, so that gives me great joy to see my list of recent visitors. I got visitors from Ukraine ande Russia on the same day! I find that very wonderful.


  5. I just watched half the first episode of this and hated it so much I googled ‘tyrant review propaganda’ so I could find somewhere to share my irritation. This show is so stupid; The sex crazed muslim dictator. Groan. Who is the target audience here? I guess people who are going to vote Trump (don’t do it America, Bush was bad enough for your international reputation…) I just had half an hour of my life stolen.

    1. I dropped out at the fifth episode. The backbone of the story was a political situation that is just ridiculous. A tyrant in that region obviously does not run for office to be tyrant again. The obvious first step is open a legislature with less power than the monarch, but hey first elections, then establish one party state, duh. The lack of ignorance on this point by the writers was too much for me. It showed that the guy who did his homework, was the guy who left the show. The point is so obvious to anyone watching the politics of the region, that you can’t take seriously this show’s ridiculous premise. Bad premise is fatal. Its painful watching good actors trying to make this turkey work. It was not that great before episode five, but at five it took a dump that could not be ignored. Have not seen it since. Its a good cocept of the show, but the writers need to do their research a LOT more seriously next time.

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