Does Muslim Representation Matter?

(CW)


According to the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, only 1.1% of the characters portrayed in the 100 top-grossing U.S. films from 2017-2019 were Muslim. Actress and founder of “Muslim Casting” Serena Rasoul said that “I see Jasmin as the Muslim version of the women who needs saving, who’s constantly the victim or the runaway…We see these particular stereotypes and tropes bring used over and over and over when it comes to Muslim women…and it still persists in media today”.


Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the world. The Pew research centre estimated that there were 1.8 billion Muslims around the world in 2015, and since then it has only been growing. So why don’t we see many in films and series, even as models or advertisers on T.V. or online?


Even if underrepresented, the percentage of Muslims that do appear are shown to be threatening, subservient, and considered outsiders. This can be said to be a representation of what is thought of Muslims in this day and age. There are many terror attacks taking place, and some are said to be in the name of Islam. This is something that impacts the Muslim community negatively because of its damaging representation. In 2011 the United Nation Alliance of Civilizations identified islamophobia as an important area of concern. Their research showed that globally, many Muslims report not feeling respected by those in the West. Specifically, 52% of Americans and 48% of Canadians say the West does not respect Muslim societies.


This is one of the main reasons representation matters. All this negative imagery of Muslims and underrepresentation won’t encourage other Muslims to stand up and stand out.


Throughout media, representation has followed a certain pattern. In the way that men are embodied as dominant and powerful while women are young, passive, dependant, and sometimes unintelligent. These stereotypes are being broken piece by piece in recent years, but it can be said that we are not fully there yet. The same can be said for Muslim representation, but this process of change seems even slower.


Despite all this negativity, it can be said that there is gradual change happening in recent years. The age of social media where everything can be posted, now includes Muslims who want their voices heard. There are many new influencers coming to light, advocating for Islam and its teachings. People can now post almost anything they want, and they can showcase their talent and represent themselves in the way that they want to.


The fact that they are normal girls who wear the same things that other Muslims aspire to wear greatly helps because they see someone else online wearing “Muslims attire” so they may be more inclined to wear it. Even with this positive impact there are still opinions that are always made. Boris Johnson and his comment on the niqab, calling it a “letterbox”, still shows that people still have a certain mindset, but it is understandable that that cannot easily be changed.


However, it can be said that this change is progressing, it may be a slow process but there is change happening. We continue to progress and represent all types of people and advocate for all those who may not have a chance before.


The most recent step in progress is the release of the first Marvel Muslim superhero. Ms Marvel, also known as Kamala Khan, played by Iman Vellani, is the first Muslim superhero to headline her own comic, the movie portrays her living her life as a superhero and balancing her regular life as a Muslim teenager. The accuracy of the recent episodes have been commended and people are enjoying the fact that they feel represented in such a large franchise. Anika Steffen from the National Public Radio says that “‘Ms. Marvel’ treats being Muslim as ordinary - and that makes it extraordinary.”


Representation for all people matters. There are so many types of people in the world, and they love to see themselves within other people, whether that is in films, online, or on advertisements. It is the notion that they are not the only one of their kind and that someone who looks like them can be so successful, so it blooms the hope that they may be able to be the same. Every person desires a role model and someone to look up to. As we are in the time of social media, the best place to turn to would be there, so it is important to make it known that every type of person has the chance to so what they desire.