#BBCtrending: How the US TV drama about Saudi Arabia was scrapped

  • 24 March 2014
A woman wearing a headscarf

A US television channel has scrapped plans to produce a pilot programme called Alice in Arabia after Twitter users labelled the concept "lazy" and "racist".

The channel in question - ABC Family - announced it would be making the show last Monday, and the premise caused immediate alarm. The story revolves around a fictional character called Alice, an American teenager kidnapped by her extended Saudi Arabian family. "Alice must count on her independent spirit and wit to find a way to return home while surviving life behind the veil," the promotional text reads. By the end of the following day the hashtag #AliceinArabia had been used more than 4,000 times, and has been mentioned another 6,000 times since. Despair seemed to be the primary sentiment. "ABC's New Show #AliceInArabia Is Flooded With Horrifying, Inappropriate Stereotypes," said one. "Muslim males in Hollywood: 1) Hijackers 2) Kidnappers 3) Somali Pirates 4) Taxi drivers 5) Convenience store owners," said a member of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an organisation that subsequently called for a meeting with the channel.

By Friday, the weight of public opinion was overwhelming and ABC announced the show would be cancelled. "This just in: Twitter activism has effectively caused ABC to drop #AliceInArabia!" one relieved tweeter posted. The mood lifted, and humour soon came to the fore. "I wonder what ABC productions is going to do with all of that unused skin bronzer," said Hend Amry, a Qatar-based writer who was raised in the US. Talking to BBC Trending she says the script for the programme - which was later leaked in full - "only confirmed the blatant stereotyping of Arab culture" in the US media.

A number of satirists asked people to imagine the concept in reverse. Karl Sharro designed a spoof advertising campaign for a show called Ali in Amreeka in which a Muslim teenager finds himself trapped in America, "unable to reconcile himself with the excess and corruption of Western culture". Sharro told us he found ABC's plans for the show particularly disappointing because, three years after the Arab Spring "there's so much dramatic potential - to do something clever". ABC said they decided to cancel the programme because the current conversation was "not conducive to the creative process".

Image caption Sharro's spoof advert turns the concept on its head

Reporting by Sam Judah

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