This post was written by guest contributor, Fatin Marini (@FatinMarini1)
When my blog, “Has Quantico got positive Muslim female roles covered?” was published, the response was overwhelmingly positive. For some who hadn’t seen the show yet, the positive portrayal of a Muslim woman as an FBI agent intrigued them enough that they were excited to give it a try. For those who were already viewers, my post validated their love of the show – so far.. But then came the question: “have you seen the latest episode?” Oh yes, I’d seen it. Episode 6. I cringed throughout the whole thing. After extolling the virtues of this awesome hijabi character, the entire episode was overrun with sex scenes and conversations about sex. And to top it all off, the kickass hijabi character heads into problematic territory. Thanks, Quantico!
The woman we know as Nimah has an identical twin, Reina, and in this episode continues to become close to another agent named Simon who doesn’t know the women are twins, in fact we never really know who’s who either. I know, it’s confusing.
Simon and Reina have an intimate conversation. He reveals that he’s just been playing gay all along because it was just easier to create boundaries. She reveals that she too has boundaries but once she trusts someone she lets those go. He asks, “Do you trust me?” She sighs and gets up. Simon takes this to mean no and starts to get up himself, when she stops him – by removing her hijab. He tells her she doesn’t need to do this, but she responds that she wants to and shakes out her hair, apparently to show just how serious she is.
I have so many problems with this scene. And questions. As a woman who wears hijab, I am offended. I understand that Muslims come in all shapes, sizes and colors. I know that many Muslim women choose not to cover, and that even within the group of women that do cover, they will choose to wear it in a myriad of ways. And some may choose to cover in front of some and not others. These are all choices women make and it is not my intention to judge anyone. What I will judge is the inconsistency represented by these writers and their taking the easy way out. They took two underrepresented groups, gays and Muslims, put them in a room together and basically said, “JK, lol, not really representing you at all!” The gay man turns out to have been “playing gay” all along while the Muslim woman who speaks about trust doesn’t take the time to reveal she’s a twin.
And where exactly does the take off the hijab to show trust idea come from?
For me personally and for those that took offense, the show doesn’t take hijab seriously. The writers are using her hijab as an accessory; a means to an end. Superficially, yes, it’s great to see an FBI agent in hijab and different kinds of hijab depending on context, doing kickass things! But the show doesn’t really appreciate what it would mean to be a woman who covers to take off her hijab in front of a man. When Elias finds out Simon is pretending to be gay, he confronts him and says “It’s not just you lying about you being gay. Don’t get me wrong that deeply offends me as a gay man. A man who was actually bullied, a man who fought for marriage equality.” As a woman who wears hijab, I feel the same way Elias does. The struggle for women who cover is real and the writers are belittling it.
The romance between Reina and Simon could have played out as a normal romance without the hijab shenanigans. What makes their budding relationship sweet was the ‘star-crossed’ lovers vibe. The flirting and sidelong glances were cute. And realistic. Muslim women have crushes (Shock! Gasp!). We are human, after all. But all along the show has been showing a side of Reina and her religious practices that are not consistent with this scene. She tells her sister that she “isn’t like her. She follows the rules.” We see her pray. It’s Simon that tells another recruit that she can’t be seen without her hijab by unrelated men. By the end of episode 7, Nimah and Reina are introduced to the recruits and Nimah is not wearing hijab while Reina is. Had the show chosen to have Nimah take off her headscarf that would be consistent with her character. But they chose Reina. Why? What are they trying to say?
The writers don’t go into motivations that would allow the viewer to understand the complexity of her choice. Instead it becomes a sign of being “available,” like taking off a wedding ring. It feeds into the bigger fantasy of the fetishization of hijab; this mysterious exotic “other” and her forbidden allure. It’s a tired and clichéd move. And I was just getting used to having a character I could be proud of!
The problem with Quantico, is that it doesn’t seem to know who any of the characters are. In their attempt to make everyone mysterious they haven’t given us a firm understanding of who these characters are. To be fair, episode 6 took aim at all the women on the show. Miranda, the straight talking, level-headed assistant director was turned into a hysterical, paranoid mother and Shelby opted for a fling instead of a relationship with Caleb because she’s now become an immature and unfocused “girl.” Oh and we later find out she’s having an affair with Caleb’s dad. Alex finally allowed herself to trust only to find out she was wrong to do so (Ahem, Reina, you watching this?) and Vasquez was conniving. The men, meanwhile, are given roles where they are confronting the women with ugly truths and making them see the error of their ways. After that little recap, I have to wonder why I’m even watching this show. Good question. Don’t think I will be after this.