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Media minorities: Muslim media portrayal shifting from stereotypical to inclusive

Muslim representation in the media is not prevalent, and when they are shown, they are not depicted as everyday people and often as antagonists.

Iman Zawahry, a Muslim director and producer, has produced multiple movies depicting Islam, and she said today’s society is moving to include Muslims. 

“I feel that we are moving in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go,” Zawahry said. “There are Muslims with hijabs on shows now, like ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and ‘Quantico,’ and it’s something I never thought would happen.”

As a filmmaker, Zawahry said she has always tried to include minorities in her works and move toward a more inclusive film industry. According to a 2017 study by Pew Research Center, 60 percent of Muslims think the coverage on Islam in media is unfair. Also, 62 percent of Muslims and 50 percent of the United States general public do not think Americans find Muslims as part of mainstream society.

“I’ve produced films with a mainly Caucasian cast, but I always include Muslims in my films and break those challenges,” Zawahry said. “These portrayals have made me feel discomfort and anger, and we have to combat that through everyday interactions.”

Zawahry said Muslim women in the media are not shown properly, and media shows a stagnant type of Muslim woman. 

“Muslim women, specifically, are seen as timid women who are forced to cover up and all that,” Zawahry said. “Actually, finding those type of women are very rare, and there are so many different types that films don’t include.”

Zawahry said movies historically have not presented Muslims justly, but they are moving to include them now.

“You can’t quote a movie right now that portrays any Muslim well,” Zawahry said. “The industry is opening up, and I feel like more Muslims should be encouraged to be filmmakers and to change our narratives.”

Some Muslim students at the University of Memphis think they are underrepresented on television. Ibrahim Hasan, a senior chemistry and finance double major, said Muslims are “unfortunately” misrepresented in media.

“In the Hollywood movie industry, most of the Muslims are portrayed as the bad guy,” Hasan said. “Like terrorist-type people, who blow stuff up.”

Hasan said what is shown in the media is different than what he knows Islam to be.

“We are good people, happy people,” Hasan said. “Don’t get me wrong, there are always bad people in every religion, but Muslims out there just want to be free and make their money.”

Yousef Yousef, a junior biology major, said he sees many Muslim portrayals in the media, but they do not represent what Islam really is.

“You have Muslims who are portrayed as terrorists and simple villains in shows and movies, like ‘American Sniper’ and ‘Homeland,’” Yousef said. “You also have Muslims who are used to represent actual Muslims but in a controlled image.”

Yousef said some Muslims in the film industry are there to just acknowledge the religion.

“You have Muslims that are literally in TV shows and media to appeal to liberal media,” Yousef said. “They try to build Islam and make it appealing. It’s supposed to represent the minority, but instead, it represents the majority perspective on what Muslims should be.”

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