Yet another “inclusive entertainment” initiative to miss the mark?
CBS recently launched the trailer of its new sitcom United States of Al and people are not feeling it. Created by Chuck Lorre, David Goetsch, and Maria Ferrari, with Reza Aslan as executive producer, the show is set to premiere on the April 1, 2021.
A seemingly feel good series, it revolves around a Marine combat veteran, Riley and an Afghan protagonist Awalmir, AKA Al, who served as an interpreter for the U.S. troops. The show focuses on their unique friendship as Al struggles to find his way around Ohio, all the while helping Riley readjust to his life.
What seems to have infuriated the public is the fact the Adhir Kalyan, a South African of Indian decent, was cast to play the role of an Afghan. At a time when shows are trying to be “representationally correct,” such a mistake appears to be a step back.
Reza Aslan, the executive producer of the show responded to some of the criticism directly by saying, “There are five Afghan characters in the show and four of them are played by Afghans. We saw 100 Afghan leads but sitcom is a specialized genre and it’s very tough to play. But we also have four Afghan writers/producers on the show who’ve done a great job helping Adhir.”
No matter the explanation, Twitter doesn’t seem to buy the tokenistic justification.
The anger isn’t just borne out of misrepresentation; the 30 second trailer is riddled with “harmless” and “funny” stereotypes about Afghan people. It is such benign stereotyping that further reduces the marginalised communities as caricatures for the consumption of masses; another lame attempt at trying to make POC existence palatable for the largely white audience.
It is such benign stereotyping that further reduces the marginalised communities as caricatures for the consumption of masses; another lame attempt at trying to make POC existence palatable for the largely white audience.
Creators have claimed that the show is a light attempt using humour at reviving the conversation around the Special Immigrant Visa (SIVs) promised to Afghan and Iraqi war interpreters that the United States has yet to issue, many years later.
During such worrying times, humour is one such way to familiarise people with the adversities around them without making them too uncomfortable. But such a show that only superficially dabs into the troubles of Afghan life in the unnecessary wars sponsored by military-industrial complexes, does more damage than good.
People are worried that the show doesn’t explore the nuanced relationship between a veteran of an illegally invading army and an Afghan, and risks building a romantic picture. To which Reza has responded, “There are dozens and dozens of Afghan interpreters living with U.S. soldiers. We know cause we actually spoke to them. This is literally their story.”
The creators for the show have asked the public not to judge the show too quickly and wait until after it releases to see what it is about.
What do you think about this new show?