CEO Blog: Do shows like Bodyguard bolster negative stereotypes?

Posted 28 September 2018

Does Bodyguard pass the “Riz Test”? Media Trust's Chief Executive Su-Mei doesn’t think so. In her latest blog she looks at representation of minorities on-screen and if film and TV execs are getting it right.

Like I’m sure many of you were, I was gripped by the BBC drama, Bodyguard, which hit a new ratings high of 10.4 million viewers last Sunday for the final episode – a larger audience than any other TV programme this year outside the World Cup. Millions more are expected to watch on catch-up over the coming weeks.

While the show has been praised for its portrayal of women in senior roles within the Government and its racially diverse cast, the final twist which came in the closing 10 minutes of the show – SPOILER ALERT! – when hijab-wearing Nadia (played brilliantly by Anjli Mohindra) – the suicide bomber from the first episode who we’d been led to believe was acting under the direction of her oppressive husband  – reveals she was the terrorist mastermind engineer who had made the bombs herself and sold them to organised criminal groups. As Nadia says, no one suspected her because they were taken in by the ‘vulnerable hijab-wearing Muslim woman as a victim’ scenario. While many viewers marvelled at the surprising reveal and Anjli Mohindra has spoken in interviews about how empowering it felt to overturn this stereotype in the final, Muslim groups have expressed their concern that the programme will fuel Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate crimes.

The “Riz Test”

Actor Riz Ahmed has highlighted the lack of accurate representations of Muslims on screen. His “Riz Test” contains five key questions: are Muslims portrayed as a victim, or the perpetrator, of Islamist terrorism? If the character is male, is he portrayed as misogynistic? If female, is she presented as oppressed by her male counterparts? Are they presented as irrationally angry? Are they superstitious, culturally backwards or anti-modern? Do they appear to be a threat to a western way of life? If the answer to any of the above is yes, then the representation fails. Bodyguard fails the Riz Test on many counts.

There are as many people who love Crazy Rich Asians as are offended by its portrayal of the superficiality and materialism of the super-rich Singaporean families in the film.

But Bodyguard is not alone in polarising audiences. The depiction of ethnic minority and religious groups on screen continues to be challenging for writers and producers. There are as many people who love Crazy Rich Asians as are offended by its portrayal of the superficiality and materialism of the super-rich Singaporean families in the film.

Pandering to stereotypes

In the current age where sensitivity about diverse representation is at an all-time high, film-makers face a minefield of challenges – in particular how to portray the authentic lived experiences of ethnic groups while not being seen to pander to stereotypes. This is especially true in instances like Bodyguard, where racial divisions are the driver of the narrative.

In our work at Media Trust, we continuously encounter charities and community organisations who are frustrated by the one-dimensional negative portrayal of the communities and causes they represent.  A big part of our work is to help them create powerful narratives that will hopefully bring about a better understanding of their communities. We also believe that more consultation and dialogue between film-makers and programmers and marginalised communities – which we are working to facilitate – would be a huge step in the right direction to ensure movie and TV audiences are offered an array of content that celebrates the diversity and talent of the multicultural world we live in today. 

We’d love to hear from you if you can help us in our goals – or if you have other thoughts and ideas. Please write to me at su-meit@mediatrust.org.

Su-Mei Thompson

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