Representation Report: Where are my brown people?
Who isn't being represented that much in pop culture, and especially not positively? Brown people like me: Middle Eastern and Muslim. So when we do show up, it's an opportunity for me to rejoice - every bit of representation counts.
This will be a revolving feature, focusing on various underrepresented groups in media - and hopefully it will show up more often when pop culture catches up with reality.
Where are my brown people? Here they are!
+ The Khan family.
You must watch Mr. Khizr Khan's entire speech at the Democratic National Convention. You must read Mrs. Ghazala Khan's op-ed in The Washington Post. And you must vote against Donald Trump. It's really not that hard.
+ "My desert brother."
The Night Of is a slow-burner of a crime drama on HBO, and you still have time to catch up - we're only four episodes into the eight-episode season, and there's a possibility of a second season, so get on it. The story of a Pakistani-American college student accused of the grisly murder of a beautiful white girl was filmed four years ago but its tackling of all kinds of issues about media bias, bureaucratic shortcomings, and murky ethics still seem relevant, probably because not that much has changed in how we talk about brown people.
In this week's episode, though, there's an instantly memorable off-hand comment from Michael K. Williams's character Freddy, a much-respected and incredibly feared member of the Rikers population who takes an instant interest in the accused Nazir Khan, played by Riz Ahmed. When Naz finally asks Freddy why he cares at all, Freddy addresses him as "my desert brother," noting that the two share an interest in education, literature, and the outside world that the rest of the inmates may not. We've seen Naz mingle with fellow Muslims in prison, but hearing Freddy address their kinship so directly means that "desert brother" is definitely entering my rotation of self-aware slang.
+ Nadiya and Tamal on The Great British Baking Show.
Why aren't you watching The Great British Baking Show? Quite possibly the most positive reality show on TV right now (on PBS, naturally), this import is unique not only in its format - the contestants aren't playing for money, they meet up in a huge tent every weekend to compete, and there's a sense of camaraderie and teamwork that very few reality shows have - but also in its contestants: the Indian Brit Tamal Ray and the Bangladeshi Brit Nadiya Hussain.
They've both been tearing it up lately, incorporating delicious Indian and Middle Eastern flavors in their baked goods (cardamom, rosewater, pistachio) and I'm rooting for either of them to come out on top. (The show already aired in the UK, so don't Google around unless you want spoilers.) In particular, though, I have immense respect for Nadiya: Every time I see her wearing a headscarf on national TV, I have a little fist-pump moment in my heart. She is proud of who she is, she is incorporating her cultural heritage into her baking, and I love her.
Plus, she makes EXCELLENT faces. Seriously. How can you not adore her?
+ Riz Ahmed in Jason Bourne.
Yes, Ahmed is already in this list for his work on The Night Of, but I was delighted to see him show up as a tech billionaire and innovator in Jason Bourne. He doesn't have as much to do as I would like - he's playing a cat-and-mouse game with Tommy Lee Jones's CIA director character that gets a little pushed aside by the end of the film - but he's still there. He still got the role. It matters.
+ That random headscarf-wearing lady in BoJack Horseman.
Isn't it depressing that I was SO EXCITED when a woman wearing a headscarf showed up in the background of a scene on BoJack Horseman's season three episode "Love And/Or Marriage"? This is a show on which we all readily accept anthropomorphic animals, and yet a woman practicing her faith pleasantly shocked me.
This is where we are on August 1, 2016. We can do better.