“Homeland is racist?”
In the October 11 episode of “Homeland: The Tradition of Hospitality” street artists were commissioned to make the set look more authentic. The scene, which takes place in a Syrian refugee camp, features graffiti that was supposed to display phrases that might be found scrawled on walls in the region. The commissioned artist took the opportunity to bring to light their opinion of the show. As reported by The Hollywood Reporter the artists wrote phrases such as “Homeland is Racist,” “Homeland is a joke and it didn’t make us laugh,” and “Homeland is watermelon” in Arabic.
Often times we encounter people with a foreign dialect tattooed on their body. They want to make a statement and say something. In an effort to achieve this sometimes a foreign language is used. When artists want to make a statement of their own they might inscribe something totally different than the intended text. This is often a punishment for not understanding the culture the tattooee is trying to subjugate.
“Homeland,” the critically acclaimed, much criticized Showtime original series, found itself in the same situation of being inked with the artist’s message as opposed to their own. What the show producer desired was to showcase a more authentic and real experience of the streets they are depicting. What they got was, well, a very authentic and real depiction of the sentiment in those streets. Among Muslim communities “Homeland” has been described as insensitive at best and downright racist at worst.
For the uninformed, “Homeland” is a series about a Manchurian candidate type P.O.W. that is “rescued” from the Middle East. Upon re-assimilation into American culture, a CIA agent is obsessed with finding out if he is really who he says he is or if it is a facade hiding a much more sinister end-game. The show has been running for 5 seasons now but during that span its depiction of the Middle East has not been the most favorable to the region.
So what does the fact that the artists tasked to place graffiti in the background were able to tag their way into the forefront of the discussion say about the show? If your intent is to show how authentic your show is perhaps it would be ideal to have advisors that are from the region. At the very least they would know what was in the background. The fact that the paintings made it on set, into the post production phase and out to broadcast show a lack of attention to the most basic form of communication, the written. One would have to guess that there are not Middle Eastern advisors on set or they aren’t paying attention. And if the producers aren’t paying attention to that, what other things are they missing when depicting an entire region? The Middle East is home to many cultures with vast and varied traditions. “Homeland” hasn’t exactly celebrated this, instead opting for the narrative that the entire region is a step away from extremism.
While it may not be the show runners’ intent to depict the region in that way, the graffiti incident shows that they are missing the mark and displaying a different narrative than their intended one. The story centers around Carrie Mathison, the aforementioned CIA agent, so perhaps they have turned a blind eye to other key parts of the story to focus on her character arc. However if that is the case it shows a much more blatant disregard for a region that has shaped the characters entire persona. Not having the ability or the desire to fact check the images on screen begs the question, what is fact checked when it comes to Mid-East culture? Does the show truly care about the imagery and way that the Middle East is depicted or is the region just a non-important casualty used to drive the main characters story regardless of the insensitivity or stereotypes it creates?
“We wish we’d caught these images before they made it to air… However, as ‘Homeland’ always strives to be subversive in its own right and a stimulus for conversation, we can’t help but admire this act of artistic sabotage.”
So perhaps this is all a ploy to bring up the conversation. Maybe, but not likely. One of the artists in question, Heba Amin, in a statement to the Washington Post elaborated on their purpose for the messages.
“It’s very important for us to address the idea that this kind of stereotyping is very dangerous because it helps form people’s perceptions of an entire region, a huge region, which in turn affects foreign policy… It was a way to claim back our image.”
It is sad to see a show that is done so well in many respects fail so greatly in one that matters most. “Homeland” averages about 1.7 million viewers reaching nearly 2 million at one point in its run. With that many eyeballs watching, what goes to air is important. Hopefully this will make the producers more aware of what they are putting out there for everyone to see. That goes for the depiction of the Middle East and Muslims as well as the graffiti.