Iron(y) Man 3: Saving Muslim Women

An Iron Patriot action figure.

Explosions, gripping fight scenes, artificial intelligence, funny one-liners, sexist playboy arrogance and close-ups of Robert Downey Jr.’s face overlaid with computer graphics are everything I expect when walking into an Iron Man movie. What I don’t expect are convenient and overused Hollywood tropes about Muslim women.

So now you know my guilty pleasure. I’m a science-fiction-superhero-action-film geek — and I frequent these movie genres in part to turn off my brain, enjoy some CGI eye-candy, and go fanatical over favourite characters and stories. And while I always secretly hope that films involving terrorists, vague references to Arabs, or locations in the Middle East will avoid using oft-repeated narratives that demonize Muslims, I’m still surprised whenever they pop up.

It’s frequently discussed on Muslimah Media Watch that Hollywood movies often orientalize or objectify Muslim women characters as marginalized props – creating scenes with women shrowded in black just to illustrate how “foreign,” “other,” or oppressed women are by the “bad guys.” These tropes conveniently justify all sorts of terrible actions by the “good guys” to save the day and liberate teh womenz.

Even when identified as essential to the plot, Muslim women are only given agency to play terrorists or victims of Islam and Muslim men. Rarely are they positively portrayed as strong, intelligent, amazing women. And when they are, they’re killed off. Like my all time favourite (and only) Muslim character in the television program Doctor Who – a fantastic woman who uses her enviable wit and intelligence to help the Doctor solve an essential problem. And then promptly dies at the hands of an alien monster.

Her role as a Muslim is to drive the plot by the virtue of her “Muslimness” and unwavering faith in God — a key clue in resolving the episode — making her fantastic character completely and utterly expendable. [Read more...]

The Tiger Hunter: Interview with Filmmaker Lena Khan

Let’s face it: there has been many a cringeworthy attempt at capturing the funny side of being a Muslim in the West. Apart from the brilliant 2010 film Four Lions, I always struggle to think of Muslim-themed comedies that actually make me smile. I was pleased to hear about Lena Khan’s project – The  Tiger Hunter – which tells the familiar tale of a young Muslim man moving to 1970s Chicago to achieve his dreams. I interviewed the brilliant and talented Ms. Khan about her project, representations of Muslims, and being a Muslim woman in Hollywood:

Sara Yasin: Why do you think making a film like this is important in this day and age — what do you think have been the gaps in how Muslims are represented in the media?

Lena Khan: Films like this are important because they show Muslims as they are, part and parcel of the world and communities in which we live. We are each unique individuals, and we each have our own stories to tell. And, we don’t all walk around praying at every occasion, or reciting Arabic every two seconds.

While there are many noteworthy exceptions that simply are not well known among the public, there is some truth in the idea that there are two groups of visual entertainment about Muslims: those that depict us as the “bad guy,” and those that go too far in making us unrealistic depictions to try to make people feel bad for us.

The former has deep and negative consequences, but the latter simply doesn’t work. In our film, we have a positive, but subtle, depiction of a Muslim as the lead character. The film is about his quest and vulnerabilities, not his faith. And that is what I think is important, and the best step toward filling that dangerous gap in how we are represented in the media. Our character is Muslim in as much Seinfeld is Jewish. Why? Because we’ve seen other groups normalized in the exact same way, and it works. Now it’s our turn. [Read more...]