Even as our world becomes increasingly globalised, and even with the large number of Middle Easterners living in Western countries, it’s still quite difficult to find representation of Middle Eastern characters and stories in Western media. Even then, it’s even harder to find representation that is positive and accurate. However, streaming services such as Netflix are coming out with new original series and films so often that it’s impossible to keep up! Some of these new releases have been taking big steps in the area of representation and re-presentation, so we’ve put together a little list of some Netflix originals that feature Middle Eastern characters and their stories.
This political drama series is centred on Bassam, the son of an infamous middle eastern tyrant, who has fully assimilated into American society and life. However, when he has to return to his home country for familial obligations, he becomes wrapped up in political turmoil as he attempts to prevent a bloody conflict from occurring. Besides featuring many Middle Eastern actors, this series also highlights the complicated politics of the Middle East.
Degrassi: Next Class (2016)
This reboot of the beloved early-2000s show has certainly caught up to present-day. Besides addressing several serious and relevant issues affecting teens today, the show’s cast is also pretty diverse! One of the show’s main characters, Goldi, is a hijabi Muslim teen who is active in student organisations and is also outspoken on women’s rights. In the second season, the show addresses the conflict in Syria, when some Syrian exchange students join the cast and become main characters as well. Many of the series’ plots revolve around the discrimination and Islamophobia these characters face when adapting to life at a Canadian high school.
This Australian rom-com follows the story of Ali, an Iraqi man who, in an attempt to live up to high expectations from his family and community, lies about his academic achievements. This one white lie spirals out of control, leading to interesting and hilarious situations. Osamah Sami, the lead actor and one of the writers of the film, stated that the movie was made in hope to “cast a more positive light on Muslim-Australian life.”
Nappily Ever After
While this film doesn’t include Middle Eastern characters or storylines, the director is Haifaa al-Mansour, Saudi Arabia’s first female director. The movie tells the story of Violet, a young black woman and perfectionist, as she navigates relationships, work, and ever-present Eurocentric beauty standards (specifically in regards to her hair). The fact that this film is directed by an Arab woman and puts the focus on the black female experience in America makes it pretty important and very thought-provoking.
While this series won’t be released until 2019, it will be the first Arabic Netflix original and is currently being filmed in Jordan. The show will be a supernatural teenage drama which follows the story of a girl who accidentally releases a jinn in the form of a teenage boy, and her experiences as well as those of her friends following this event. The show will be directed by up-and-coming Lebanese director Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya, who stated “This is a great opportunity to portray Arab youth in a very unique way. The level of authenticity Netflix is trying to achieve with this show is definitely what attracted me the most to be part of this project.” We can’t wait!