ABC Family, a network best known for having white 20-somethings play sexually frustrated teenagers, has announced the pilots of three new dramas, including the already-controversial Alice in Arabia. The show is already facing critiques that it will promote islamophobia and make a teenage melodrama out of other cultures and serious international issues. However, after the incredible backlash from Twitter, social media, and Muslim advocacy groups, the network has announced that the show will not be moving forward.
Here is what you need to know:
1. It’s About an American Teen Forced to Live in Saudi Arabia
The show’s plot will revolve around a “rebellious American teenager” named Alice who is kidnapped and forced to live in Saudi Arabia by her Muslim grandfather. ABC Family said that the show will be a great fit with ABC Family’s brand, “Innovative and authentic is the promise we make to our audience. These new projects deliver on that promise with emotional and entertaining storylines, intriguing, multi-faceted characters and complex relationships.”
2. It Was Written By an Army Linguist Who Worked for the NSA
According to Deadline, Brooke Eikmeier began writing the series while serving in the military. She served at For Carson in Colorado where she was a cryptologic linguist specializing in Arabic.
From her post in Colorado, she assisted NSA missions in the Middle East.
3. The Synopsis Already Sounds Islamophobic
Published by deadline, the official synopsis for the series and pilot already offers people a lot to get mad at:
Alice in Arabia is a high-stakes drama series about a rebellious American teenage girl who, after tragedy befalls her parents, is unknowingly kidnapped by her extended family, who are Saudi Arabian. Alice finds herself a stranger in a new world but is intrigued by its offerings and people, whom she finds surprisingly diverse in their views on the world and her situation. Now a virtual prisoner in her grandfather’s royal compound, Alice must count on her independent spirit and wit to find a way to return home while surviving life behind the veil.
Already, from just the synopsis, we can see the show will perpetuate common Islamophobic stereotypes including Islamic men as villains and Islamic women as needing to be rescued. It also continues the notion that it takes the introduction of an American character to humanize the “surprisingly diverse” populations of the Middle East.
This is not to say that there are not egregious women’s rights issues in Saudi Arabia. Women in Saudi Arabia face human rights violations every day, but through the eyes of a rambunctious American teenager hardly seems like an appropriate way to explore that serious topic.
4. It Could Be Based Loosely on the Story of Nazia Quazi
In November 2007, a 24-year-old a dual citizen of Canada and India went to visit her father living in Saudi Arabia. Nazia Quazi was then not allowed to return home to Canada because her father hid her passport and, under Saudi law, was able to legally forbid her from leaving.
She was stuck there for three years, unable to circumvent Saudi laws even after her fiance contacted the Canadian government and NGOs like Human Rights Watch. After increased international attention, Quazi was finally able to go to Dubai to marry her fiance.
5. The Other 2 Dramas Are About Teenage Rehab & Teens in Professional Tennis
Just incase you thought this could be the start of ABC Family’s foray into exploring women’s rights issues rather than the aforementioned sexually frustrated teenagers, here are the other two shows announced alongside Alice in Arabia:
Recovery Road focuses on a teenage girl dealing with addiction. Maddie has a reputation as a party girl who doesn’t think she has a problem, until she’s confronted one day by her school guidance counselor and forced to choose between expulsion and rehab. Trying to save face, Maddie chooses to spend her nights living with other recovering addicts at a rehab facility, and her days pretending everything is perfectly normal among her high school classmates and her closest friends.
Unstrung explores the sexy, cutthroat, and emotional stakes of the professional world tour of tennis as brother and sister Luke and Ellie Holt compete to move up the ranks. The Holts may seem to have it all in a world where success is not only determined by prowess on the court, but by looks, charm and the ability to hide your faults under pressure from fans, critics, opponents, and even your closest allies. But a major family secret threatens to turn their lives, and their hard-earned family “brand,” upside down.
Shows that do not exactly coincide with a thoughtful analysis of Human Rights violations in Saudi Arabia and the complexity of American-Middle East understanding.