Just in case nobody informed you, using the hijab as a prop in your movie does not count as representation.
A Real Life Hijabi
Okay, I know the intro sounds a bit salty, so let’s preface this with the fact that I obsessively love the Marvel films, and thoroughly enjoyed “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” That being said, I have been hearing a lot — like A LOT — of chatter praising and celebrating the new Spider-Man film for having a girl wearing a hijab in the movie.
Now, I heard this news before I even went to go see the movie, so I was super stoked. Like, WHAT?! Dreams coming true over here! And what’s more, according to the Muslim online community, the girl wearing hijab in the new Spider-Man film passed the Riz Test! For those of you who don’t know, the Riz Test is basically a way to screen whether or not a film succeeds at NOT being Islamophobic depending on how the identifiably Muslim character is presented.
The test asks five questions —
Is the character:
- Talking about, the victim of, or the perpetrator of terrorism?
- Presented as irrationally angry?
- Presented as superstitious, culturally backwards, or anti-modern?
- Presented as a threat to a Western way of life?
- If the character is male, is he presented as misogynistic? Or if female, is she presented as oppressed by her male counterparts?
Admittedly, homegirl in hijab passed the Riz test. But the reason why she passes the test is because she’s not a character, she’s a prop; a fairly consistent prop, that appears in multiple scenes throughout the movie, but a prop regardless.
I just want this to be clear so that everyone understands the situation; the Muslim community is so starved of positive representation in film that we actually get excited when someone who looks like us is in the background of a big superhero film.
Let me explain. Spidey himself, his homeboy, his crush, and a whole group of school kids go on a tour of Europe that eventually gets hijacked by some superhero stuff that needs to get solved (the plot in a nutshell). So, of course, in order to make the story convincing, Marvel hired a group of extras to appear throughout the film as the group of students attending the trip.
Among that group of an estimated 10-15 students, a total of six students that were given actual characters that have real roles to play throughout the film. The rest of the students were strictly background material, and one of those students happens to wear hijab.
I just want this to be clear so that everyone understands the situation: the Muslim community is so starved of positive representation in film that we actually get excited when someone who looks like us is in the background of a big superhero film. That’s all it takes for the Muslim community to stand up and applaud with happiness in our hearts and souls.
And yes, I think the Riz Test is a good start at establishing whether or not a film is Islamophobic, but I have come to the conclusion that we, as Muslims, need to start raising our bar. Like way higher. Being background material in a film should not get us excited. We should not be explicitly celebrating a film for doing the bare minimum for positive Muslim representation.
So, I have a proposition for the Muslim Girl community, and really for the Muslim community in general. Let’s create another test. Except this time, instead of a test that merely asks the question of whether or not the Muslim character is demonized, we ask the questions that establish whether or not the Muslim character is humanized.
I’m not saying this is the final test, but these are my suggestions for what should be added to the list. If there is an identifiably Muslim character in a film:
- Does the character have more than one line in the script? (I know that’s asking for a lot, but I’m feeling risqué.)
- Is the character essential to the story? (Or can they be removed without anybody noticing?)
- Does the character have an arc? (a.k.a. a human flaw that gets explored that they can learn and grow from, etc.)
- Is the character authentically written? (Are they relatable on a basic human level AND on a specifically Muslim-centric level?)
- And I know this has less to do about the character, but I just want to ask it because there is a writer behind every character: Is there a Muslim on the writing staff that is writing this character for the screen? (Or is it a bunch of writers who did some online research and think they know sh*t?)
Just my suggestions. Nothing concrete. But if we were to put homegirl in hijab from Spiderman to the test, she would fail, on all fronts.
The Heated Hijabi