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In 2015, TV Broke Ground By Showing Relatable Women In Hijab

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In 2015, TV Broke Ground By Showing Relatable Women In Hijab


In 2015, TV Broke Ground By Showing Relatable Women In Hijab

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Here and there, television programs feature women wearing headscarves. The change here is they're just women in headscarves, not seen as anything special, not associated with terrorism or the oppression of women or with Islamist politics. NPR's Neda Ulaby has been asking what this change means.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Especially on cooking shows.


PAUL HOLLYWOOD: Well done, Nadiya.

NADIYA HUSSAIN: Thank you so much.

HOLLYWOOD: You're the winner of "The Great British Bake Off." (Laughter).

ULABY: The most popular program in Britain, "The Great British Bake Off," has a devoted following in the U.S. too. This year's winner, Nadiya Hussain, spent 10 weeks whipping up traditional British pastries such as cream horns and iced buns while wearing a crisp white apron and a traditional black headscarf.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Nadiya's triple layered, big fat British wedding cake will feature jewels from her wedding day and saris to complete a red, white blue theme.

HUSSAIN: I'm going to fill the cake. I'm going to slice them into three...

ULABY: Hussain's win was widely seen as a triumph of British multiculturalism, and this year, American Muslim women wearing headscarves competed on two primetime Fox reality shows. Amanda Saab, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants, made it halfway through "MasterChef."


AMANDA SAAB: My grandmother's lamb kofta with a jalapeno-dusted potato and a sumac aioli.

GORDON RAMSAY: If there's one thing I love, it's kofta.

SAAB: No pressure then. (Laughter).

RAMSAY: Seriously.

ULABY: Cracking jokes and being creative are not normally how Muslims behave on television, Saab says, especially Muslims in hijab - nor do you see them cooking bacon.

SAAB: I cooked pork for the first time. I cooked bacon during the breakfast challenge, and that wasn't highlighted at all in that episode, but for me it was huge.

ULABY: Saab says she decided in advance to cook, although not necessarily eat, anything the show threw at her. And on the reality show "Home Free," a Muslim couple with a hijab-wearing wife build and win a house.


AIDAH: This will be Anissa's room. She'll never leave.

ULABY: These good-humored, relatable people are far removed, says professor Evelyn Asultany, from the two kinds of Muslim women you see in scripted television.

EVELYN ASULTANY: Terrorist or CIA agent.

ULABY: Recently, Asultany's seen an uptick in hjiab-wearing characters as featured players in dark, terrorism-related dramas. ABC's "Quantico" has twin sister FBI recruits, and last year, the Showtime drama "Homeland" featured an analyst whose hijab made her boss suspicious.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) You wearing that thing on your head, it's one [expletive] to the people who would've been your co-workers, except they perished in a blast right out there. So if you need to wear it, if you really need to - which is your right - you'd better be the best analyst we've ever seen.

ULABY: In a show about Muslims as the enemy, Asultany says this role also lacks nuance.

ASULTANY: She is portrayed as a hyper-patriotic woman, and that is her function.

ULABY: Asultany finds this good-bad binary ultimately dehumanizing.

ASULTANY: It just also reveals how basic the level of conversation is that we are having in this country about Muslims.

ULABY: But this year, Asultany saw a scripted drama with a headscarf-wearing character not about Islamic terrorism. "Mr. Robot," on the USA network, is about computer hackers. One wears a hijab.


SUNITA MANI: (As Trenton) Even if they hack into Steel Mountain, we need to hit China's data center simultaneously.

ULABY: Maybe in 2016, Asultany says, more three-dimensional Muslim characters in headscarves will show up on our screens. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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