This post is written by Guest Contributor Fatin Marini (@FatinMarini1)
As of this writing, the author has watched up until episode 5. We will have a follow up post soon!
When I first heard about ABC’s Quantico, I rolled my eyes. A show about FBI recruits, one of which was a Muslim hijabi woman, with an Indian leading lady and a terrorist attack? I knew where this was heading. It was going to be Homeland all over again. And I didn’t need to spend my evenings on that.
Begrudgingly I watched the pilot episode but I was ready for a fight. I had so much attitude as it were, that I actually ended up seeing things that were not there. But then I re-watched the first couple of episode and this time around, I tried to find the positive in this character if not in the show.
Quantico is definitely better on the re-watch. Once I checked my attitude at the door I realized the hijabi character Nimah Amin, played by Yasmine al Massri, is actually pretty kick-ass. She is just like all the other recruits; she runs laps around the track, shoots a gun, gets commended for her pull-ups by her commanding officer and partakes in combat with her fellow recruits. And she does it all in hijab and long sleeves to boot! And that’s just her physical prowess. She is represented as being funny. When interrogating a fellow recruit, she reveals he is a virgin. When told that isn’t his secret, she replies, “it should be.” The other recruits laugh and cheer her on. In another instance, she watches one recruit hit the target at the shooting range with incredible accuracy and comments, “American sniper.” Whatever your opinion of those jokes, it is clear that Nimah gets some unexpected one-liners. Even al Massri was surprised by her script.
Nimah is revealed to have a secret (which I won’t reveal here for the sake of spoilers) only known to the higher ups in the FBI. She is complex and as an audience we want to know more. Muslim characters are usually just caricatures of a stereotype (see Homeland. Actually don’t.) They are usually one dimensional and one note. There are probably instances I could count on one hand of thoughtful, inspiring Muslim characters in TV or film. And yet, Nimah is proving to be one. I find myself compelled by her story. Growing up there were no Muslim characters on TV, let alone Muslim women. Here we have a show that has a diverse cast led by the very capable Priyanka Chopra and a Muslim woman who, finally, isn’t an outcast. She is accepted and well-liked by her fellow recruits and superiors.So far, what sets the show apart from other shows is that it casts suspicion on all of the FBI recruits. When there is a terrorist attack on Grand Central terminal in New York, the blue-eyed blonde may be just as guilty as the Muslim or the nerdy white guy or the shady seasoned FBI agent. No one is what they seem. No one more so than Nimah. For the first time, as a Muslim woman I’m not rolling my eyes at the way the character acts or the dialogue she speaks. I’m looking forward to getting to know her better. I’m hoping the show continues on this same trajectory. For once, I’m looking forward to finding out whodunit because the answer might not be so obvious after all.
Of course, the show in and of itself is pretty outlandish and improbable, there are plot holes galore and lame escapes. It does have a diverse cast with strong female roles, but for all these strong females fighting to make names for themselves in a male driven world they are often distracted by six-pack abs and invitations for coffee. I’m not sure how much hope I can have for the character in this environment. But I am interested to see where the show is going with her character and maybe that’s about all you can hope for.
That’s the thing about seeing a Muslim on tv. Any tv. Even bad tv. It gives you hope. That maybe, just maybe, we’re making it to mainstream. As of episodes 1-5, I do like Nimah’s character. To al-Massri’s credit, she does a wonderful job with a subpar script. The problem with Quantico is not that it’s improbable and ridiculous, I mean look at Empire. There is no crazier show on tv. But they embrace their crazy whereas Quantico takes itself too seriously. And just when I think, “that’s it I’m out…I can’t watch this anymore. It’s too lame,” a scene of Nimah in her Islamic bathing suit pops up and I’m in again! It’s the hopeful voice inside whispering “Ok, one more episode.” And maybe that’s what the network execs are hoping for too.