Things are changing, however. My show Sleeper Cell featured the first American Muslim hero, an FBI agent who fights terrorism. The show garnered multiple Emmy and Golden Globe nominations. And now we have the ABC series Quantico, which features twin Muslim sisters (played by my good friend Yasmine Al-Massri) in hijab excelling as FBI cadets. President Obama in his recent visit to a Baltimore mosque called for Hollywood to expand past these portrayals of Muslims in national security situations and simply show them as normal human beings in dramas and comedy. The "Muslim Cosby Show" is still a way off in my view, largely due to the resistance of LEFI power players who seek to promote Islam as the enemy, but it is no longer impossible.
Demographics are changing, and at the end of the day, money talks in Hollywood. As Muslims continue to become a normal part of American society, viewers with Muslim friends will be turned off to hostile portrayals of their neighbors, even as many Americans would no longer accept racist stereotypes of African Americans in TV and movies. And as the market shifts, even the LEFI producers will be forced to respond to the demands of their pocketbooks.
The process has begun, and is irreversible. When Muslims become a normal and welcome part of American television and film, Hollywood will begin to get closer to its self-proclaimed ideal of being the conscience of the nation. Until then, I am going to write yet another script with a Muslim hero (I have a dozen) and fight to get it produced.It would have been easier to give up back in 2002 and avoided Muslim topics in my work. It would have been a more pleasant journey, free of awkward exchanges with powerful people. And perhaps certain colleagues would have considered me a friend rather than an enemy. But my own conscience would have never left me alone.
Salaam from Hollywood.