Recently Mara Brock Akil, creator and producer of one of my favourite shows, Girlfriends, was featured on the August 2008 cover of Domino magazine (pictured to right). The show, initially about four, but then after a few seasons three, Black girlfriends, gained much critical acclaim for its content and its willingness to focus on serious issues, all the time maintaining a comic appeal. Often referred to as the Black Sex and the City, Girlfriends, in my opinion, was much, much better than Sex and the City. MUCH better.
Unfortunately however, after eight seasons the show was canceled. The show was highly popular among Black audiences but not as much among White audiences. Hm…I wonder if that had anything to do with the cancellation. The role of racism in it’s cancellation is for another analysis. At this time let’s get back to Mara Brock Akil.
Reading up on Akil (pictured to left) I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Akil is Muslim. And a Sufi Muslim at that. Akil says that the characters of her show were based on her own friends. Reading this I began to wonder why she did not include a Muslim character on the show. Even as a guest every now and then. Muslim women living in North America face many of the same issues and challenges faced by the characters on Girlfriends – relationships, self-exploration, identity crises, racism, and sexism. By having a Muslim character on the show Akil could have addressed in the problem of Islamophobia, something so rampant today, as well as many issues relevant to Muslim women.
However, I can also see reasons which could have caused hesitation on the part of Akil. If there was a Muslim girlfriend how would she dress? What would her relationships be like? How would she relate to the other women? Could all this be done without making any moral judgments about the ways in which Muslim women live? Could this be done without creating more stereotypes? Could this be done without excluding some Muslim women?
Girlfriends (pictured to right) had a great run and was highly entertaining as well as educational. I still wish a Muslim woman had been introduced into the show, even if for one episode. Seeing more Muslims on television in “normal” roles can only help in normalizing Muslim people. However, I can understand the pressures of having just a few Muslim characters on television. They become representatives of all Muslims and many are hesitant to take on that immense responsibility. This can be seen in the example of Little Mosque on the Prairie, which, despite all the positive changes it has brought to Canadian television, I have found to present just one “type” of Muslim woman, leading to the exclusion of many Muslim women. (See here for a previous critique.)
But here’s wishing good luck to Mara Brock Akil in her future endeavors. Whether or not she presents Muslim characters in her shows, it’s a breakthrough that we have a Muslim woman with such creative power and initiative in American media. Let’s hope that in the near future such women become more visible to everyone.