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Homeland’s quest for authentic Arabic graffiti backfired big time

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Now entering its fifth season, Showtime’s Homeland may well be influencing millions of American television viewers who prefer getting their political information from fictional cable dramas about terrorism rather than from actual journalists. If so, this is troubling, since in the words of Egyptian visual artist Heba Y. Amin, Homeland “has garnered the reputation of the most bigoted and racist TV series for its inaccurate, undifferentiated, and highly biased depiction of Arabs, Pakistanis, and Afghans.” In Homeland’s defense, Amin concedes that the show “looks good and is well acted and produced” and does raise valid questions about U.S. government ethics. Nevertheless, she worries that it may be “feeding into” people’s fears about the Islamic world by portraying fair-skinned Claire Danes as a Little Red Riding Hood archetype surrounded by dark Muslim wolves. It’s just the same old racism in a shiny new package, the artist contends.

On her website, Amin has written an eye-opening article about what happened when she and a group of “Arabian street artists” decided to exact some subversive revenge against Homeland while the series was filming in Berlin earlier this year. Apparently, the show was constructing a set meant to represent a Syrian refugee camp on the Lebanese/Syrian border, and had just two days to get it completed; the production company sent out a call for artists who could create “authentic” Arabic graffiti and gave the ones who responded a few basic guidelines, including that “the graffiti has to be apolitical.” The artists responded by spray painting the set with slogans mocking Homeland and calling out the series for its inaccurate depiction of Arabs. One tag said, bluntly: “Homeland is racist.”


Another slogan declared that “Homeland is a watermelon.” While that may seem like a mysterious insult, Heba Amin explains that “watermelon is a word often used to indicate that something is a sham or not to be taken seriously.”


Amin’s entire article, including screenshots from the series and further examples of how Homeland frequently gets its facts wrong (naming a terrorist character after a Pakistani ambassador, for example), can be found here.