So why did Alice in Arabia spark such a [negative] response? The premise seemed to be ripped out of a movie from the 1980s: a young American teenager is kidnapped by her extended Saudi Arabian family and imprisoned on their compound. Our heroine “must count on her independent spirit and wit to find a way to return home while surviving life behind the veil.”
The backlash to the pilot’s announcement on Twitter was immediate. Soon Arab-American and Muslim-American groups joined in expressing their apprehension.
Even I raised my concerns in a telephone conversation with an ABC Family executive on Thursday. The ABC official explained that they had tackled other touchy subjects in a respectful way as in the case of its show The Fosters which features a same-sex couple raising a multicultural group of children. But when I asked: “Were any of the children on The Fosters kidnapped and forced to stay in the family like in Alice in Arabia?,” I was met with a moment of silence, followed by assurances thatAlice would be nuanced.
The outcry escalated Friday whenBuzzFeed released a version of the pilot script and reported that it’s, “dotted with cultural inaccuracies and stereotypes.” For example, one of the show’s characters refers to the mixed ethnicity of “Alice” as, “half Jew-loving monkey.”
By Friday night, ABC Family apparently had enough: “The current conversation surrounding our pilot was not what we had envisioned and is certainly not conducive to the creative process, so we’ve decided not to move forward with this project.”
Some are ecstatic by this swift cancelation. I’m not. I would’ve preferred that ABC Family first met with people in the Middle Eastern and Muslim-American communities to try and make the show work. If the premise had been tweaked to eliminate the kidnapping angle, it very well could've become a fair showcase of Arabs and Muslims. And “fair” is all I want. I’m not looking for a PSA, but rather a TV show that features the good and the bad in our community...Oh, you mean like, say, showcasing tasty samosas and jihad? Yeah, I'm sure that, in the absence of the kidnapping angle, that would have done the job.