American Crime Review: Introducing Aliyah Shadeed

American Crime Review: Introducing Aliyah Shadeed March 23, 2015
Regina King as Aliyah Shadeed. Source.
Regina King as Aliyah Shadeed. Source.

 

On Thursday nights in the United States, ABC airs American Crime, an 11-part series that looks at a murder that took place in Modesto, California. The story doesn’t follow the detectives around as they solve a mystery-of-the-week like most crime shows, though, and instead focuses on the lives of everyone else involved and the relationships between one another.

Each week reveals a new layer of information for each of the characters, who include:

  • the couple—a murdered husband and an assaulted and hospitalized wife,
  • the husband’s divorced parents and the wive’s conflicted, caretaking parents.
  • An undocumented immigrant accused of being at the scene (I can’t understand what he was ultimately accused of).
  • A 16-year-old Mexican-American boy who provided the immigrant access to a car.
  • A couple accused of committing the crime: a black man, Carter, and white woman, Aubrey, addicted to drugs.


The show portrays how the crime has affected each individual through their interaction with the criminal justice system and the relationships with their families. (The Root and AV Club have detailed weekly recaps of each episode—spoiler alert!)

I’d seen adverts for the show while watching Scandal, and was immediately intrigued, as the show was written by John Ridley (who wrote Twelve Years a Slave) and prominently featured Regina King as a Muslim sister, Aliyah (played by Regina King), to the black man accused of the crime, Carter. In the episode that aired last Thursday, she finally made her appearance.

The Muslim sister has a tumultuous relationship with her brother. In the lone scene she appeared in, she greets Carter with salaams as she offers to help him with legal representation if in return he “humbles” himself and seeks forgiveness for his actions. We learn a bit more about his background—he used to have a job and a partner before he turned to drugs and found Aubrey. She says: “You take their drugs. You sleep with their women. And then they put you in their cage.” Carter in turn reminds Aliyah that she converted to Islam, and seems unwilling to take her up on her offer, as she refuses to help have Aubrey be able to visit him. He leaves Aliyah abruptly.

It’s so rare to see Muslims on American television—I’m curious to see how Aliyah is portrayed on the show moving forward and how she will assist her brother, Carter. She is clearly on a mission to save her brother—to what end? Their single scene together was emotionally fraught, and only heightened by how it was shot: we see the reflection of Aliyah’s face in the window as the lens focuses on Carter through glass.

The show is beautiful to watch, incorporating light and sound to convey emotional intensity to its scenes. It’s unclear at this point, the third episode in to the show, who truly committed the crime and who should be brought to justice, in its flawed form. This isn’t a show, though, that wants to solve the mystery so easily. Each episode reveals new tidbits about the characters, the impact of race and religion on their lives, slowly painting an entire portrait around the crime.

I’ll be back next week, recapping Aliyah Shadeed’s portrayal on the show.

Next week on American Crime:

 


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  • Rebecca Hankins

    Salaams:

    I too was heartened to know that we would have an African American Muslim female portrayed on a major network show. Unfortunately, the Regina King character is so problematic I don’t know who they spoke to or consulted with on this particular portrayal. I don’t know where to start with the problems; if this were the 1960s or 1970s then the character would be more accurate of the Nation of Islam, that they seem to want to channel, although she would not wear her clothing or hijab in such a manner.

    To have her belong to this particular group of Muslims was also strange, as if the African American Muslim community is not connected with other Muslims within Sunni Islam. Yes Muslim communities in America are still segregated, but rarely do you find a Muslim community that is wholly one group and in particular Muslim that dress as Aliyah does and not be more integrated. This portrayal is really problematic in so many ways. Yes there is anti-semitism throughout America, but most Muslims I know, as an African American Muslim, would not blatantly respond in that manner to a prosecutor with a Jewish name. That was really ugly.

    This show plays on all the negative tropes of African Americans and Muslims; black men with white women, drugs, anti-semitic, controlling, making fun of white people who were killed (particularly pernicious), etc. As negative as they portray African American Muslims, the portrayal of the Latino community is worse.

    The only thing I can say for the show is that the actors are really good. We should all be outraged at these depictions!

  • Rebecca Hankins

    Salaams:

    I too was heartened to know that we would have an African American Muslim female portrayed on a major network show. Unfortunately, the Regina King character is so problematic I don’t know who they spoke to or consulted with on this particular portrayal. I don’t know where to start with the problems; if this were the 1960s or 1970s then the character would be more accurate of the Nation of Islam, that they seem to want to channel, although she would not wear her clothing or hijab in such a manner.

    To have her belong to this particular group of Muslims was also strange, as if the African American Muslim community is not connected with other Muslims within Sunni Islam. Yes Muslim communities in America are still segregated, but rarely do you find a Muslim community that is wholly one group and in particular Muslim that dress as Aliyah does and not be more integrated. This portrayal is really problematic in so many ways. Yes there is anti-semitism throughout America, but most Muslims I know, as an African American Muslim, would not blatantly respond in that manner to a prosecutor with a Jewish name. That was really ugly.

    This show plays on all the negative tropes of African Americans and Muslims; black men with white women, drugs, anti-semitic, controlling, making fun of white people who were killed (particularly pernicious), etc. As negative as they portray African American Muslims, the portrayal of the Latino community is worse.

    The only thing I can say for the show is that the actors are really good. We should all be outraged at these depictions!

  • Azra

    Thanks for your comment, Rebecca! It’s been interesting to see Aliyah on the show–I hope we get to learn more about her as it goes on. I don’t think the show spares anyone, challenging the viewer to consider their own assumptions. It’s been difficult to watch at times, and I can see how it might come across as stereotypical portrayals. It’ll be interesting to see how the show progresses.

  • Azra

    Thanks for your comment, Rebecca! It’s been interesting to see Aliyah on the show–I hope we get to learn more about her as it goes on. I don’t think the show spares anyone, challenging the viewer to consider their own assumptions. It’s been difficult to watch at times, and I can see how it might come across as stereotypical portrayals. It’ll be interesting to see how the show progresses.

  • Rebecca Hankins

    Thanks Azra, I can be too critical. I was critical of Spielberg’s Amistad (rightly so), but at least the story was being told, sigh. I have a question for the group, spurred by Aliyah’s character in American Crime. For a research project I’m working on I am trying to find any other tv programs that depicted African American Muslims. So far I have a number of movies, but I could only come up with 4 TV shows; American Crime, Oz, The Wire, minor character in Empire, and I fudged a bit with Little Mosque on the Prairie (she is neither African American nor is the show centered in the US, but she is African and it is North America, albeit Canada, lol. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

  • Rebecca Hankins

    Thanks Azra, I can be too critical. I was critical of Spielberg’s Amistad (rightly so), but at least the story was being told, sigh. I have a question for the group, spurred by Aliyah’s character in American Crime. For a research project I’m working on I am trying to find any other tv programs that depicted African American Muslims. So far I have a number of movies, but I could only come up with 4 TV shows; American Crime, Oz, The Wire, minor character in Empire, and I fudged a bit with Little Mosque on the Prairie (she is neither African American nor is the show centered in the US, but she is African and it is North America, albeit Canada, lol. Any suggestions would be appreciated.