Arabic graffiti appeared in a new episode of “Homeland” that explicitly criticized the show itself.
As Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) is walking through a Syrian refugee camp on the show, graffiti on the walls reads, in Arabic:
'Homeland' is racist.
There is no 'Homeland.'
'Homeland' is not a show.
Artists Heba Y. Amin, Caram Kapp and Stone said they were the ones who wrote the graffiti.
A friend contacted them saying “Homeland” producers were looking for “Arabian street artists” to add authentic graffiti to the set. The artists agreed after realizing they could use this as an opportunity to critique the show.
They explained “Homeland” is noted as “the most bigoted show on television” and described some of the specific inaccuracies and damaging images it portrays.
The artists stated:
For four seasons, and entering its fifth, 'Homeland' has maintained the dichotomy of the photogenic, mainly white, mostly American protector versus the evil and backwards Muslim threat.
The artists wrote it was a very busy set as designers worked to make it look as authentic as possible. But they missed the obvious graffiti:
The content of what was written on the walls, however, was of no concern. In their eyes, Arabic script is merely a supplementary visual that completes the horror-fantasy of the Middle East, a poster image dehumanizing an entire region to human-less figures in black burkas and moreover, this season, to refugees.
The graffiti was, presumably, seen by actors, directors, cameramen, set designers, editors and various other crew members. And yet somehow it managed to get on the screen without anyone realizing.
We can't pretend this was an issue of all these people collectively overlooking a "tiny" detail.
Pictures from the show and set prove the graffiti was not hard to miss. It was written clearly and legibly in large lettering. The phrases were isolated -- it's not like there were a bunch of phrases jumbled together making any of them hard to pick out.
Can you imagine if the same phrases were written in the exact same way, but in English? There's no doubt the graffiti would have been immediately noticed and changed.
But instead, the people creating a show about the Arabic-speaking world missed this glaring on-set criticism written in Arabic.
As James Poniewozik wrote in the New York Times:
Arguably, this kind of small detail is the greater problem with 'Homeland' and other American dramas set in the region: the tendency to use the signifiers of a culture — clothes, music, street urchins, unfamiliar writing — as a kind of spicy Orientalist soup of otherness. Even in a well-intended drama, if you approach another culture as set decoration, in which the alien appearance matters more than the content, you risk sending a subtle but strong message: this is a terrifying, unknowable land where everything goes squibbly.
I was shocked the first time I saw the poster for season 4 of “Homeland” with white, blonde Claire Danes wearing red amid a swarm of faceless black burqas.
Even for someone who doesn't watch the show, the imagery presents a very clear message: Islamic communities are foreboding, threatening places for white people.
I could not comprehend how the ad had gotten through so many levels of professionals to end up in front of me, just like the graffiti. It's not like someone snapped a quick pic and threw it on a poster -- there was time and many people involved in letting this happen.
It helps to note in America, Islamophobia is alive and well. Moreover, pop culture does affect reality. After “American Sniper” came out in theaters, there was a rise in anti-Arab and anti-Muslim threats.
At no point in the creation of the “Homeland” ad did someone stop and say it might be presenting a harmful and insulting message? At no point in producing that episode did someone read the giant letters?
The people behind the products are vital to what we consume. When a group of homogeneous people are making something, they're going to miss factors people with different points of view would not.
When the New York Times published an article comparing Shonda Rhimes to the “angry black woman” stereotype and Cosmopolitan published a "dos and don'ts" fashion feature in which all the “don'ts” were images of women of color, many argued neither would have happened if there had been a person of color on staff to recognize the pieces were offensive -- even if offense was not the intent.
The “Homeland” graffiti is the clearest incident of this issue. If there were one person in a leadership position on the show who was actually fluent in Arabic, the show likely would not have to deal with this controversy right now.
When a group of homogenous people are making something for the world to see, in addition to missing harmful imagery or -- you know -- blatant criticism written on walls, we as consumers only get one perspective.
This slip is strong evidence “Homeland” is showing cultures as seen by people who literally don't speak the same language as the people they are depicting.
What do you think that says about the way the show is presenting those cultures?
Citations: New York Times