Little Mosque on the Prairie creator stresses need...
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Feb 02, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

Little Mosque on the Prairie creator stresses need to shatter stereotypes

Writer and filmmaker Zarqa Nawaz wants more cultural diversity in the arts to counter stereotypes


Zarqa Nawaz, the 48-year-old Regina-based writer of Laughing All the Way to the Mosque and creator and producer of the CBC sitcom Little Mosque on the Prairie, will be speaking at an event at Beit Zatoun on Thursday, sponsored by the Canadian Council of Muslim Women and the Tessellate Institute. She shares her thoughts with the Star on diversity and how important it is for members of visible or racialized minorities to have their narratives and stories told in the arts. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Why is it important to speak out about this?

“I think hearing stories from communities that we normally don’t hear about is really important, particularly the Muslim community. The only stories we hear about are the ones like Homeland or 24 or Sleeper Cell. And it’s always the same narrative: the scary Muslim other that’s trying to kill you or the neighbours. It’s these types of stories that have strong impact on how people feel about a community when they’re continuously, almost overwhelmingly, uniformly the same. You don’t need a PhD to figure out that’s a problem …

“I’ve never met a terrorist in my life. I’ve never met someone who has threatened their daughter with an honour killing. All the people I’ve ever seen on TV that represent my community I have never met before. So the question is, if I haven’t met them and I live among Muslims, the producers and the makers of these TV shows have clearly not met them either … So that’s a dangerous game you’re playing when that’s the only image you’re giving of a community … And so that was the power of Little Mosque on the Prairie. It wasn’t some cutting-edge show like Girls; it was a very milquetoast show, but it was revolutionary because you got to see Muslims paying their bills and raising their kids and doing the ordinary things that normal people do in their lives.”

When you came up with Little Mosque, was that your idea — to combat that kind of racism?

“I had done a television documentary for the National Film Board called Me and the Mosque and it was about women and mosques and how we were struggling with patriarchy and trying to have our voice heard, not have barriers put up. It was a similar documentary (to one) I had watched about Jewish women and their struggle with patriarchy, called Half My Kingdom. I thought: Wouldn’t it be interesting to see an imam born and raised in Canada talk about gender issues in the community. That was it … I didn’t set out to do this show — rah, rah, rah, Muslims are so great. It was going to look at, critically, some of the problems in the community … That transparency and honesty is what attracted people to the show. People were saying, ‘These issues exist in my church, my synagogue, my temple.’ By making a show so specific about a certain group, it became oddly universal.”

Why do you think it’s important for racialized or marginalized communities to take their power back and use narrative to convey a message? How can they do it?

“It makes us fully human. We’re not always that exotic other. We are the same as everyone else, and we have the same problems as everyone else. And I think people don’t see that. I think they see us as this kind of strange collection of people that have their own values and ideas … It’s like the othering of another group of people. And when you do that, it’s easier to have crimes of violence against them, because people have less sympathy and empathy for them.

“I think #OscarsSoWhite is … bringing up this point. A lot of white actors had no idea that there is a systemic problem in the arts industry; that only certain stories and certain artists of a certain race are being promoted and given access to the airwaves, to the detriment of another group of people. I don’t think people realize they have privilege … So you need political will in order to get marginalized communities to have the same access … I think people in power need to know that and be able to see it and realize what the implications are … It’s a two-pronged approach: We need the gatekeepers of industry to create those opportunities for marginalized communities, and we need members of the marginalized communities to step up with their stories. It’s hard to champion something that doesn’t exist. You need both happening simultaneously.”

Toronto Star

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