On Meryl Streep, Hollywood Movies and Muslims

In her acceptance speech of the Cecil B DeMille Award – a lifestyle achievement award – at the Golden Globes, Hollywood Superstar, Meryl Streep, addressed the audience lamenting her dislike of President-elect Trump. A predictable and inevitable Twitter-storm followed where he whined, “Meryl Streep, one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood.”

The morning after the Golden Globes, I woke to an exploding social media feed, Meryl Streep was everywhere, along with a number of others from the awards ceremony who also took casual stabs at the president-elect.

Jimmy Fallon for example said, “This is the Golden Globes: One of the few places left where America honors the popular vote…” – A criticism of the recent election more than 2.8 million people more voted for Hillary Clinton, yet Donald Trump took office.

The first voice of dissent came from an American friend in New York, Darya. It shouldn’t matter that her heritage is from Russia or the last time we met was actually at a street market in Cairo over desserts. She writes, “What I find ironic is that now there are calls for her to run for President.” To which I add, are we so desperate and disillusioned by the political process that any person who may speak a moment’s sense is now better qualified?

Muslims’ presentation in Hollywood movies

In her article in the LA Times, Loraine Ali writes, “Television producers, writers, actors and network execs – many of whom have openly criticized ultra-conservative politicians for their intolerant views – have done more to popularize Islamophobia over the last 15 years than all of Trump’s campaign proclamations… (and they) ensured that Westerners would know Islam through only the prism of suicide bombings, religious extremism and oppressed women in burkas.”

Just a few days ago, Omid Safi, the Director of Islamic Studies happened to give a speech in London at St Ethelburga’s center for reconciliation and peace in which he said, “This is a constant message in the context of the Quran, the New Testament and the Hebrew Bible, that if you want to find out how people are faring with Allah (God) you begin by taking a look at the way that the most vulnerable people in their community are faring at the moment.”

Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of Hollywood movies – including those that draw negative stereotypes of Muslims, not because I believe in the stereotypes, simply because of the entertainment factor, knowing that as a Muslim myself, there is a disconnect between the ‘Crazy Muslim’ being glamorized on screen, and the everyday Muslim you will meet on the street.

It is refreshing and welcoming to hear Meryl Streep’s words for they spoke a certain truth, “Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.” To me, this isn’t just a reference to President-elect Trump, but also a reminder to Hollywood, that for the sake of entertaining entertainment, an entire community, a fifth of the world’s population, has been, for many years, reduced to stereotypes. And perhaps it is time for a counter-narrative of more positive Muslim personalities in movies.

In this vein, American (Islamic) scholar Reza Aslan believes that a Muslim version of Will & Grace is needed to change American perceptions of Islam. He says, “The only way you’re going to dissipate that fear is by getting people to know someone that they’re afraid of.”

The United States has a long established tradition of protecting the rights of religious minorities, in a similar way to Prophet Muhammad with his constitution of Medina. When explaining the Virginia Statue of Religious Freedom, Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s Founding Fathers, included, “…the Jew and the gentile, the Christian and the Mahometen (Muslims), the Hindoo and the infidel of every denomination.”

Returning to Darya, “As long as we are going to listen to TV doctors, TV lawyers, TV teachers etc, forgetting that real life is as much, and often way more, complicated that a film, we will be in trouble. If we give more praise to Tom Hanks for playing Sully than to Sully for saving hundreds of lives, there is something fundamentally wrong with us.”

Love her or hate her, Meryl Streep is an excellent actress. If we wish to benefit from her words, it shouldn’t be as a criticism for the far right conservatives alone, but a reminder to us all of a very simple lesson, summed up in Omid Shafi’s speech in London, that “If we aspire to loving God, we have to begin by loving (all of) humanity.”


About Farrukh Younus
Farrukh I Younus has a background in mobile phone strategy across Europe and Asia, and has visited China on more than 25 occasions. Dedicated to understanding and delivering solutions based on new technology, Younus has spoken on the subject to the EU in Brussels, and regularly attends industry-leading conferences. He currently runs a video platform, Implausibleblog, delivering lifestyle content via social media; where his focus is on understanding consumer behaviour with regards to digital content and digital advertising. His interests include travel, nouvelle cuisine, and chocolate.