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The Misrepresentation of Muslims and Bullying in Films

Updated: May 9, 2021

Most Muslims will tell you that the images and tropes used in portraying the community

mainly rely on lazy, racist, and Islamophobic stereotypes.

In an attempt to quantify the representation of Muslims, a duo has coined what they

call the Riz Test. Inspired by the Bechdel test, (which challenges viewers to consider the way

women are represented in whatever they happen to be watching). The Riz Test is a project

to measure the portrayal of Muslims in film and TV. What’s new is that they are creating a data set that measures how poorly Muslims are represented.

Any film with at least one identifiably Muslim character can be put to the test. The test asks,

is the character:

  • · Talking about the victim of, or the perpetrator of terrorism?

  • · Presented as irrationally angry?

  • · Presented as superstitious, culturally backwards, or anti-modern?

  • · Presented as a threat to a Western way of life?

  • · If the character is male, is he represented as misogynistic? or if female, is she presented as oppressed by her male counterparts?

If we take a look at the Netflix show, ELITE, it is apparent in showing these five features in

the Muslim family; consisting of a female, hijabi high school student, Nadia, her homosexual

brother, Omar, and their father and mother who run a small essentials shop.

Elite- Netflix

Nadia from Netflix's Elite

As Nadia is one of the only students who is Muslim and wears the religious clothing - a

hijab in a prestigious school dominated by wealthy and mostly Christian teenagers, she is

instantly met with stereotypes and made an outcast. The principal raises the issue of there

being a ‘no accessories’ rule, her scarf is seen as a problem and is not respected.

The audience may interpret Nadia as being ‘irrationally angry’ as she replies to the principal saying if they respected or understood her culture or religion they would not ask her to take it off. Finally, her appearance is presented as a ‘threat to Western life’ as she is given a warning that if she wears it the next day she will be expelled. The show consequently makes her character take the scarf off when she is in school to conform to these ‘rules’.

However, this does not stop here, her father is presented as oppressing and homophobic or

‘culturally backward’. The father makes an emphasis on Nadia wearing the scarf and is shown to restrict her freedom and choice. Omar her brother makes it clear that there is a lack of truth and honesty in his relationship with his father as he is certain that he will not accept the fact that Omar is gay and is bound to the expectations he has of his son.

However, by the end of the season, Omar has rejected his religion and family by leaving home and working in a club, and can be seen as more ‘happier’ and free. The show depicts a separation between Western or ‘modern’ life and Islam by expressing the fact that modern teens like Nadia and Omar need to choose between the two options rather than navigating hardships together.

A snippet from Netflix's Elite

I think the role that had contributed to Nadia gradually yet ultimately turn into a ‘rebellious’

teenager that also conforms to the expectations of Western life like drinking, sex, and

partying was the bullying that she received from her peers. She was physically seen as an

outcast due to her social class and religion and was thus labelled as a threat. This is shown

through Nadia noticing two characters doing something against the school rules and them

first trying to bribe her with money so she does not report the incident. This presents a

negative stereotype that Muslims are greedy and selfish.

Lina Qaderi states ‘Most Muslims would say that these characters are disrespectful to all

Muslim teenagers, as the show is a backhanded way of making it seem to the audience

that the religion of Islam goes against any teens’ desires and is practically oppressing

Muslims, leaving them with no choices’.

The representation of Muslim females being victims of bullying and racism should be

done with more truth and realism that takes a step back from stereotypes mentioned before in the Riz Test. We need to depict the harmful effects of bullying in schools that happen due to religion like the increase of truancy, self-harm, detachment from activities, and long-term

psychological harm in a proper way.




Umama Afia

Hi, I'm Umama and I love food, films, writing and making people laugh.

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