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  • Andrea “The Diva” Simakis Talks Muslim Reality Television

    [caption id="attachment_4768" align="alignleft" width="158" caption="Andrea "The Diva" Simakis Of The Cleveland Plain Dealer"]Simakis[/caption]

    Our fearless journalist and Diva Andrea Simakis is back to discuss muslim reality television in her article Muslim families' ordinary reality is revealing on TLC's 'All-American Muslim':

    The ad running in magazines is hard to ignore: A woman wearing a hijab decorated with rhinestones stares out from the page. Only her brown eyes are visible. The rest of her face is obscured by the American flag she holds in front of her mouth like a veil. The tagline floating above her head reads "One Nation, Under Suspicion."

    Turns out the promo for TLC's "All-American Muslim" is more provocative than the show, at least the first few episodes. That doesn't mean the series is dull, but it's hardly "24." And we can thank Allah for that.

    Though executive producer Alon Orstein says there is no mission behind "Muslim," its very existence is myth-busting, the antithesis of the Fox drama that dominated post-9/11 airwaves for eight seasons. In a plot from 2005, the smiling Arabs next door were pruning their shrubs while plotting to gain control of U.S. nuclear power plants and initiate a mass meltdown.

    "Our main objective here is to tell really compelling stories about real people," Orstein says, much like other shows in the TLC lineup, from the Roloffs in "Little People Big World" to the Duggars on "19 Kids and Counting."

    Set in Dearborn, Mich., "the No. 1 most concentrated community of Arabs outside the Middle East," the show follows five Lebanese families as they experience the joys and pain of being human.

    Fouad, a high school football coach, struggles to whip his squad into shape. Shadia and Jeff are planning their wedding. Samira and Ali, married for seven years, desperately want to get pregnant. Nader and Nawal are newlyweds expecting their first baby. All of this would elicit a loud "so what?" were it not for the complicating influence of faith and culture.

    Coach Fouad, whose team is "95 percent Muslim," must hold practice from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. during the holy month of Ramadan. That way, his players can still fast from sunrise to sundown, then hit the field at night, hydrated and fed.

    In order to marry his "Arab princess," Jeff, who is Irish Catholic, must convert to Islam, an idea that chafes his mom.

    Before agreeing to fertility treatments, Samira wonders if God might bless her with a child if she dons a hijab -- she removed the scarf after the Twin Towers fell because she worried what people might think.

    Nawal, a respiratory therapist, clashes with her mother, who suggests she move home after her child is born -- and stay in bed for 40 days, like daughters did in the old days.

    "Women clearly weren't working in those days," she tells Ma. Later, she confides, "I think if I had to stay at my parents' house for 40 days, I'd kill myself."

    Not as raucous or broad as "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" -- though one nuptial celebration features a belly dancer -- the show pushes the same cultural buttons by trading on the otherness of the Muslim clans. But highlighting families with a twist is what TLC does best.

    The idea, says Orstein, is to provide a window into communities most viewers might not know much about, "whether it is little people or polygamists or a family with 20 kids or five Muslim families."

    That company -- and the implications of lumping Muslims into the same category as shows about dwarves and plural marriages -- didn't spook the Dearborn cast. The TLC brand made them feel more comfortable, Orstein says.

    A potential breakout character is Nina, a buxom blonde who never met a stiletto she didn't like. (Question: Are breast implants prohibited under Islamic law?)

    The party planner, who looks more like a cast member on "Real Housewives" than a denizen of Dearborn, is tired of staging weddings, fire breathers or no fire breathers. She wants to open a nightclub but clashes with her business partner, who tells her a woman's place is at home, not at the disco.

    Another is new bride Shadia, who sports tattoos and piercings and has a fondness for country music and tailgating.

    "I'm a hillbilly at heart," she confesses. During her fiance's conversion ceremony, Shadia sits demurely by, the words "NOT A TERRORIST" emblazoned across her T-shirt.

    Read more at The Cleveland Plain Dealer

    Filed under: Entertainment, Forest Hill News & Events
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