'Alice In Arabia' Writer And Creator Comes To The Show's Defense
The creator of the show that launched thousands of tweets (and a ton of hate) has something to say — and she's coming to its defense. Alice In Arabia writer and creator Brooke Eikmeier has defended the show in a first-person account in The Hollywood Reporter, citing that the Internet apparently got it wrong. According to Eikmeier there was a slew of misinterpretations from the get-go, but it's hard to sympathize with something that caused such outrage, outrage which seemed very deserved.
The show, which was attacked by critics (specifically after a Buzzfeed article cited how the pilot confirmed everybody's worst fears — that it was, indeed, racist and small-minded) and then was met with great protest by the Internet. It was appropriate; the show seemed like it was dripping in racism. On March 21st, ABC Family pulled the plug on the pilot before it had even gone into production. Critics and audiences touted it as a victory for network television as well as a victory for social media; when a popular force unites, we verifiably have the power to send a message effectively. But for Eikmeier, this was anything but a victory. This project was rather important to her.
Perhaps what made the potential series Alice in Arabia so important to Eikmeier was how long it was in the making. Eikmeier had worked as a script coordinator and as an assistant for ten years, until finally earning her first credit on Boston Legal. In 2009, she enlisted in the army and worked in the full-immersion language center while living in Saudi Arabia. She began to learn Arabic, as well as the culture that surrounds it. During that time, she formed a friendship with her teacher, who would keep her on her toes about the difficulties that Saudi Arabia's constituents were encountering — women in particular. She writes:
[...] there were others who wanted things that I had taken for granted as an American -- for example, a legal system that gives you the right to have a woman defend you in court when you bring a rape case, or for the culture to allow you to bring the case without prejudice in the first place. I began to see that the things we focus on in America: the niqab and abaya, driving... they were small in comparison to much deeper issues, and yet they were being virtually ignored. I began to think over and over, is there anything I can do?
With her experience in the writers' room and her own material that she had been working on, Eikmeier sought out to create a female character who dealt with similar issues as she did when she lived in Saudi Arabia. She intended to create a mixed-race girl who would be living in Saudi Arabia who would serve as a "stand-in" for the American audience, who, too, would feel out of place had they been dropped off in Saudi Arabia. She had written five episodes, developing Alice's interpersonal relationships and increasing her awareness of her surroundings, and had been ordered to write more, a sign which indicated that the networks had confidence in her project. The pilot was officially picked up on March 17, and Eikmeier says that as soon as the network announced the series, she knew it was headed downhill.
In fact, Eikmeier cites that that the description said far from what she intended it to say. She says that if she had been the one to write the logline, it would have been, "A drama centering on an American teenager who, after her mother’s death must make the adjustment to living with her maternal family in Saudi Arabia." Instead, the network released the following as the show's description:
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.
Eikmeier said she would have never used the word "kidnapped," nor would she use the term "virtual prisoner." Were these words that imply something high stakes and potentially dramatic written in an effort to sell the project? Is the show's failure, then, ironic? Could copy written by a network be the thing that thwarted the project? Is this all just a misunderstanding?
She says that Buzzfeed's article didn't give the script a full-read through, but Rega Jha's article referenced the entire episode — the script in it's entirety, not just one page. Jha said the script was "light on nuance" and had a bounty of cultural inaccuracies. Jha also noted that the script didn't demonstrate the author's familiarity with the Saudi Arabian culture — the one that she, supposedly, aimed to shed light on.
Eikmeier described what followed as:
A mob formed, made up its mind, then rushed to destroy a valuable opportunity for furthering the cause of women worldwide.
It sounds like Eikmeier is accusing us of latching onto a cause without enough information — is she calling the mass audience dumb? Our attention spans may be smaller than ever, but as we're glued to our computer screens and iPhones, we're smart enough to get the proper sources when it comes to any matter. We do know how to form our opinions. However, if all we had to point to was Jha's criticism of what he read and the networks description — were our sources too limited? It's a viable notion, but racism is far too sensitive of an issue to allow to even slip with tiniest echoes on a television show.
Eikmeier closed out her argument by saying that;
Success was easily within reach to achieve a goal many in the Muslim community want: a series that showed them fairly and with admiration and complexity, that would give opportunities to Arab writers and Arab actors. Blinded by the stereotype the mob had of the typical Hollywood writer, however, those imminent jobs have now disappeared. That is no victory, in any form, for anyone.
It's difficult know how effective the show would have been. From what we know, it was racist and the backlash was warranted. We may very well be dealing with a writer saddened to see her project go, lest we have the opportunity to read a leaked script and make up our own minds. One thing the mass media has made their minds up about, though, is that racism and narrow-minded scripts are unacceptable.