President Obama Calls For More Muslim Characters On Television & His Words Are Especially Important

As if my love for Barack Obama could get any stronger. The President spoke recently about the lack of representation for Muslim people and the characters they play on TV. And his speech — the speech he gave during his first ever visit to a U.S. mosque as President — filled me all sorts of pride to be living in a country where our leader is speaking openly about representation. It’s like 2008 all over again. Can we fix representation in Hollywood? Yes, we can! But, before I start sticking my Obama signs back in my front yard, let’s take a look at what exactly the President had to say about how Muslim characters are represented on American television.

On Wednesday, Obama spoke with a group of young Muslims at the Islamic Society of Baltimore about the damage certain representations are doing to Muslim-American communities. After that meeting, Obama spoke with network executives, challenging the way Muslim-Americans are so often depicted on television. Comparing it to the representation issues that African-American people faced and continue to face when it comes to representation in Hollywood, the President said, “PThey were pointing out that so often they felt invisible. And part of what we have to do is to lift up the contributions of the Muslim-American community, not when there’s a problem, but all the time... it’s not that hard to do. There was a time when there were no black people on television.” Reminding the audience of executives about what makes could television, he went on to emphasize his point: “You can tell good stories while still representing a reality of our communities.”

I couldn't agree more.


In addition to calling for more representation in television for Muslim-Americans, he also urged network execs to portray Muslims in storylines that aren't about matters of national security. And, his point is a strong one: A 2007 study by the Islamic Human Rights Commission basically concluded what Obama spoke about on Wednesday. In it, researchers argued that the media has a huge influence on how people view Muslims, saying that “the media is seen not only as transferring information… but also shaping opinions.” By continually linking Muslim characters’ motivations to extremism (whether it’s theirs or someone else’s), TV shows and movies are perpetuating an incorrect and downright damaging stereotype. On the other hand, depicting Muslim-American characters that are motivated to act by very personal and very human reasons could go a long way in changing how Muslims are perceived in our country.

I’m just proud that President Obama is speaking out about this issue and contributing so valuably to the ongoing conversation about representation in Hollywood.