‘Tyrant,’ FX’s Middle East drama, draws complaints of Arab and Muslim stereotypes

June 25, 2014

It’s no secret that FX’s new drama “Tyrant” — about the son of a Middle Eastern dictator who leaves his comfortable California life to return to his troubled home country — has had problems since its inception. Ang Lee was supposed to direct the pilot, but dropped out. People criticized the hiring of a white lead actor to play the main Middle Eastern character. The Hollywood Reporter has a long story about the struggle of making the show, which involved lot of behind-the-scenes issues for its creators.

Most notably, however, as the first episode aired Tuesday night, the series is getting many complaints for one particular issue: Arab and Muslim stereotypes.

“In the pilot of FX’s ‘Tyrant,’ Arab Muslim culture is devoid of any redeeming qualities and is represented by terrorists, murderous children, rapists, corrupt billionaires and powerless female victims,” said CAIR’s national communications director, Ibrahim Hooper. “In ‘Tryant,’ even the ‘good’ Arab Muslims are bad.”

Previously, CAIR had requested a meeting with FX to address potential “Islamophobic stereotyping.” Hooper did say that a producer told him that future episodes will be more nuanced. THR reported that showrunner Howard Gordon (behind “Homeland” and “24,” also heavy on Middle Eastern themes) has talked with the Muslim Public Affairs Council and Muslims on Screen and Television in regards to the show. He also hired a Palestinian to serve as a consultant on the series, which films in Israel.

In the Los Angeles Times, critic Mary McNamara said, “In attempting to mix West with Middle East, the show too often seems content with stereotyping both.” Time’s James Poniewozik pointed out in comparison to other shows, “If ‘Tyrant’ is meant to expand on the portrayals of the Middle Easterners peripheral to stories like ’24,’ it fails badly.”

NPR’s Eric Deggans sums up: “Most every Arab character outside of Bassam is seriously flawed,” he wrote, noting Jamal and another brutal general. “This is a show about the Middle East as seen through Americanized eyes, with little of the nuances in Arab or Muslim culture on display. The unfortunate effect is a constant, not-so-subtle message: If these people would just act like Americans, everything would be so much better.”