Just four days after greenlighting the pilot episode of controversial teen drama Alice in Arabia, ABC Family has decided to cancel it.
Written by a former U.S. Army translator who worked on National Security Agency missions in the Middle East, the TV series was going to follow the life of an American teen who found herself “kidnapped” by her Saudi Arabian extended family and kept prisoner in her grandfather’s royal compound.
Needless to say, this plot summary immediately resulted in scornful backlash from people who accused it of being riddled with racist and Islamophobic stereotypes.
The defense from writer Brooke Eikmeier was that she didn’t write ABC Family’s promotional description for the pilot episode, and that the actual show was a sensitive and balanced portrayal of Saudi Arabian culture. However, BuzzFeed got hold of an early draft copy of the script, which appeared to live up to every concern that Alice in Arabia was just as racist as it sounded.
Alice is written as a relatable suburban teen who sneaks out to parties and watches Project Runway, while veiled Muslim women are described in the script as “completely formless, anonymous.” But while the script’s depictions of Saudi Arabian women seem divided between ultra-devout Muslims and Americanized “rebels” who make sure to point out that they wear La Perla lingerie under their burqas and love to watch Sex and the City, the most offensive character is probably is Alice’s grandfather.
Alice’s grandfather is known as Abu Hamza, a name he shares with an Islamic extremist cleric who is currently facing various charges including planning to open a jihadist training camp on U.S. soil. Abu Hamza is better known in the U.K., where he was given the tabloid nickname “Hook” thanks to having one eye and a distinctive hook-shaped prosthesis for one of his missing hands. But while the real-world Abu Hamza may be more of a household name overseas than in the U.S., it’s still safe to assume that Alice in Arabia’s writer would have heard of him.
Alice in Arabia’s main storyline kicks off when Alice’s grandfather invites her to visit him in Saudi Arabia during a family emergency, but then hides her passport so she can’t go home. According to BuzzFeed, the draft script even includes a scene where he describes America as a “perverted world” where women “starve and cut themselves thin and big titted.”
So, in what was supposedly meant to be a nuanced portrayal of Muslim life in the Middle East, Eikmeier characterized her protagonist’s grandfather as a conservative Muslim kidnapper who literally had the same name as an infamous supporter of Al Qaeda.
Along with the onslaught of criticism on social media, ABC Family was also contacted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim advocacy group that was concerned that Alice in Arabia might have a negative impact on U.S. audiences due to its stereotypical portrayal of Muslim characters. This seemed to be the tipping point for ABC Family, which decided to pull the plug on Alice, saying, “The current conversation surrounding our pilot was not what we had envisioned and is certainly not conducive to the creative process, so we’ve decided not to move forward with this project.”
Probably a wise decision. When covering this type of social media backlash story, it’s pretty typical to find people arguing from both sides. But in the case of Alice in Arabia, there only seemed to be one person who wanted that pilot episode to air on TV: Brooke Eikmeier, the woman who wrote it.
Photo via Pixabay