The CW recently announced Tala Ashe will portray a new Muslim-American superhero on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. This is hugely significant for not only the show, but for those watching at home as well.
“I know that when I was growing up, when I watched television, I didn’t see anyone who looked like me,” Ashe said at the Television Critics Association (TCA) press conference this past Wednesday.READ MORE: Atlanta Journal-Constitution Demands Disclaimer For 'Richard Jewell' Movie
In the past, when Muslims have appeared on-screen in the U.S., their portrayal has been less than heroic. The television discourse has been largely related to terrorism or narratives of oppression. But this just isn’t true – or fair – to real Muslim-Americans. In addition, putting a well-represented character onscreen has been historically difficult for American broadcast television. The New York Times detailed this challenge in a piece by Melena Ryzik, “Can Television Be Fair to Muslims?” The article, which was mostly conversational dialogue, points to a surprising statistic from a study in the book Reel Bad Arabs: of a thousand films with Arabs and Muslims from 1896 to 2000, only 12 had positive depictions.
While they don’t make up a large percentage of US Civilians, there are 2.75 million Muslim-Americans according to a report by PEW Research center. It’s the fastest growing religion in the US as well; that number is expected to double by 2050. There’s a growing need in the U.S. for more Muslim-Americans to be represented.
“The Legends are this tapestry that reflects the America of today,” Ashe explains.
Not to mention with the millions who watch television from other countries, there’s a lot of people who will look up to the heroics Ashe represents through her character.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that a Muslim-American character would find their home on CW, either. The station in recent years has been a home for characters traditionally marginalized. One doesn’t have search too long to find an example – series such as The Vampire Diaries, Riverdale, Supernatural and The 100 either currently have or had lesbian, gay or bisexual characters. Ashe’s character will be joining Sara Lance(AKA White Canary) on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, a superhero who is bisexual.
In addition, the CW has also taken steps to ensure positive adaptions for future LGBTQ characters. Take a look at an upcoming fall series Dynasty, a reboot from the 1980s dramatic soap opera. Steven, a gay character who was a regular on the old version of the show, had his sexuality as a point of contention between him and his father in the older version. CW writers have already confirmed they will be taking an updated spin on the character’s response to his sexuality.READ MORE: The Art of Watching TV
“Steven is confidently gay, Blake accepts him,” executive producer Josh Schwartz explained at the TCA. The cause of their disagreements will stem from other things, such as “environmental causes.”
So what do we know about her character? Ashe will play superhero Zari Adrianna Tomaz, a Muslim-American hacktivist from the year 2042. She’ll use her technical skills to dismantle bad guys, terrorist groups, or super villains to protect all that is good in the world.
Ashe, an Iranian-American actress, is a great choice to help set new, positive ground for the way Muslims are portrayed in television:
“A lot of my work as an artist has been about representing not only Muslim characters, but immigrant characters or third culture kids in an accurate, nuanced way,” she said in an interview with BuzzFeed News. “I’m definitely looking to further do that on this show.”
Welcome to the Legends of Tomorrow, Tala. Be sure to watch her super-powered debut starting October 10, on CW.
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Written by, Bryan Nakata, CW11 Seattle Summer Intern
For more about Bryan, click here!