Alice in Arabia, an ABC Family pilot, has recently been pulled from production. A twist on the western classic Alice in Wonderland, this new project was about an American girl kidnapped by her Saudi royal family and forced to live with them. Despite initial skepticism from viewers, Alice in Arabia was still slated to hit television screens across American within the next year. Luckily, ABC Family killed the pilot after the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a major Muslim advocacy group, pressured the company to pull the plug.
The advocacy group’s concerns were real. The intersections between local media and public diplomacy are vast; and a show like Alice in Arabia would truly have an impact and shift perceptions. Alice in Arabia was an opportunity to showcase the diversity of our country and the important role Muslim-Americans play in American society. Instead, the show fulfilled inappropriate stereotypes. ABC Family’s description of the program even highlights this negative portrayal,” ‘Alice in Arabia’ is a high-stakes drama series about a rebellious American teenage girl who, after tragedy befalls her parents, is unknowingly kidnapped by her extended family, who are Saudi Arabian. Alice finds herself a stranger in a new world but is intrigued by its offerings and people, whom she finds surprisingly diverse in their views on the world and her situation. Now a virtual prisoner in her grandfather’s royal compound, Alice must count on her independent spirit and wit to find a way to return home while surviving life behind the veil.” This description reveals the program would negatively impact the lives of ordinary Muslim-Americans. It perpetuates the idea that every devout Muslim character vehemently opposes American ideals, and vice versa.
This flawed outlook was a missed opportunity. Rather than pitting Muslim and American ideals against each other, the program could have showcased the realistic balance of values held by Muslim-Americans. Additionally, the program created patriarchal gender roles and oversimplified the experiences of Muslim women. Modern independence and devout faith are juxtaposed in a negative life in the program. A women’s beliefs of freedom and religion are a lot more complex than these two simple boxes ABC Family created.