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Muslim Misrepresentation

Ayla Ahmad, Author

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    In the political climate of today, representation of Muslims and individuals of South Asian  descent is scarce on screen. With more and more misrepresentation from Hollywood, in which Muslims are pictured as terrorists in 9/11 or Sikhs as fanatics, the image of brown people is constantly undermined. Even when Desis, people of Pakistani and Indian ethnicities, are portrayed it is almost always presented in negative light: “…Hollywood blatantly excludes multi-dimensional portrayals of Muslims, [which] can lead to harmful stereotypes in the real world.” according to the Huffington Post. Two otherwise critically acclaimed movies have been criticized for their depiction of brown people, or lack thereof. Dunkirk directed by Christopher Nolan and The Big Sick directed by Michael Showalter are films in which people of Desi descent has been subject to stereotyped representations or not been shown at all.

   The Big Sick starring Pakistani-born Kumail Nanjiani follows the biographical story of Nanjiani’s romantic life with an American woman. Working as a comedian and an Uber driver to earn money, Kumail meets a girl named Emily, and over time falls in love with her. But the movie depicts Kumail’s parents, being Pakistani Muslim, forcing their son to meet a new Muslim woman every day so he can marry and settle down. Pressured, Kumail discreetly rejects these girls one by one in an attempt to focus on his relationship with Emily. However, brown women become a tagline for the movie as each are shown as “…pitiable, interchangeable and wholly conventional, even when they have lived in the US longer than Kumail, who was born in Pakistan.” (The Guardian). As the film progresses, Nanjiani breaks the ice with his family by telling his parents he reveals his relationship with Emily. In response, the protagonist’s mother disowns her son, which in reality occurs infrequently among Pakistani families. According to the Pew Research,“ A median of 58% across four Western European countries, the U.S. and Russia called Muslims fanatical’”. By not showing the full range of Muslim representation and Pakistani culture, The Big Sick presents an image of a minority, which the audience will perceive as the majority, perpetuating a preconceived notion of the Pakistani populace.

   Similarly, Dunkirk, fails to show the immense help Desis gave in helping the British, possibly saving thousands of lives. This film shows an event in World War II in which desperate British ships, fishing boats and battle-ones alike, traveled to the coast of Dunkirk off of France to retrieve British soldiers. Because Hitler and the Germans had taken over the government of France and advancing to catch the British, Prime Minister Churchill called everyone to get “their men home!” The film shows the land, aviation, and seafarers attempts in fighting against time, a very difficult task because of the amount of soldiers needed to bring back to British land. In the end, the Brits were able to get nearly all their men on boats, a feat not considered due to moral. However, there were groups Christopher Nolan decided to make unrecognized. The efforts of Indian and Pakistani men to aid the British might have changed the outcome of this tense event, perhaps changing the course of the war. According to the Times of India, “Four Indian Animal Transport companies of the Royal Indian Army Service Corps were sent to aid the BEF from Bombay. This group was designated as Force K-6 and reached France in December 1939. Most of the men were Punjabi Muslims with some Pathans, and primarily came from areas that today form part of Pakistan.” Because Nolan forgot to represent the Indian and Pakistani aid that helped all the British, they are forgotten to the moviegoers, letting the fallen lives be hidden under the shadows.

    As can be seen from these examples, Pakistanis and Indians, especially those who are Muslims, are simply discarded in the film industry. The true nature of brown women is hidden by the bias of Kumail Nanjiani in The Big Sick. As Dunkirk deprived the legacies of Desi soldiers, there can be no doubt Hollywood has played a crucial role in shaping America’s view of my people.  

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The student news site of Catalina Foothills High School
Muslim Misrepresentation