Pakistan and its people are, commonly, not portrayed well in Western media. Take Homeland for example, where Pakistan is depicted only as terrorist laden hellhole, and for some inexplicable reason the people speak Arabic instead of Urdu. So, it really feels like a rare treat to see deceptions of Pakistanis as more than just terrorists. Though they’re limited in number, there are a few Western tv shows that try to paints us as more than just religious zealots and fanatics.
It’s a dark comedy series about a British-Pakistani man. Mobeen is an ex-drug dealer, who has gone on the straight and narrow ever since he became the sole guardian of his teenage sister, Aqsa. Now reformed, he and his motley crew of friends do their best to raise her right. Although because of his past and the fact that he is a very obviously muslim man certain problems crop up that involve him and his crew in the most hare brained schemes. The show is hilarious, with zany supporting characters like Eight and the wildly inappropriate (and aptly named) Uncle Shady, but it also offers social commentary on the experience of being muslim in an increasingly islamophobic country. The show in its later seasons takes a turn from its light comedic inception to dive deeper into the gritty intersection between Mobeen’s world and that of drugs, gangs and the police. This dark comedy offers a nuanced portrayal of its protagonist. Mobeen is a bearded Pakistani muslim man, who isn’t depicted as a one-note terrorist or gangster, he is shown to have a softer side like in episode one where he is plaiting and styling his sister’s hair so it looks good for school.
2. The Night Of:
Starring British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed, The Night Of is an intricate and gripping murder mystery. Set in post 9/11 New York, the story follows Naisr Khan—Naz—a Pakistani-American college student who nicks his father’s taxi to go to a party in Manhattan. On the way, a young woman ends up mistaking him for a cab driver and they wind up having a drug fuelled, eventful night with each other. Naz wakes up in the morning to discover the women stabbed dead, and runs out in a panic. Only to be picked up, later, by the police for her murder. The rest of the show follows Naz’s journey through the criminal justice system. Revealing anything else would spoil the plot, as the devil is in the details in this show. The Night Of manages to distinguish itself from other murder mysteries by exposing the unglamorous reality of the criminal justice system. It touches upon how those who are punished or not depends on luck and resources. As we follow Naz through the show we too are gripped by an uncomfortable, growing feeling of claustrophobia as his world narrows around him. And, Riz Ahmed’s performance as Naz is sublime.
3. Aliens in America:
Aliens in America is a short, 18 episode sitcom. The story follows a Pakistani exchange student who comes to live with an American family, in Wisconsin. The show tries dismantle the anti-muslim prejudice prevalent in America by highlighting how people from extremely different backgrounds can find common ground and live peacefully together. The moments of understanding between the student, Raja Musharraf, and his host family are actually sweet and the show itself is a light comedy. However, despite its good intentions the show unfortunately reinforces many negative stereotypes, such as Pakistan being a primitive, desert country and Raja having no idea of how anything works in America. Even the main characters name is clunky and uninspired, probably taken from ex-dictator and president General Musharraf who was in power at the time this show aired. Still, it is a light and easy watch which doesn’t vilify Pakistanis.