In my telenovela, El Principe, the central plot line of the show revolves around a dangerous border town in southern Spain that is struggling with an uprising of radical Islamic jihadists. This topic is wildly relevant in today's society, not just for Spain, but for any Western country experiencing a rift between the rights of Muslim citizens and the fear of terroristic attack. Many countries, the United States included, are walking a fine line between prejudice and national security. There is no easy answer. And while the drama of the show is extremely entertaining - full of action, romance, drama - it's important to remember that it is just that, a show.
Following the rising popularity of El Principe in Spain in 2014, many Muslim Spaniards felt that it depicted the role of their culture in Spanish society in a threatening and false manner. Many experts and bloggers alike took to their forums to discuss just how dangerous it can be to associate a culture with their extremists for the sake of entertainment. Yasmina Aidi, a then doctoral candidate in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Languages at Princeton University, wrote a piece for online news source Aljazeera on the perpetuation of stereotypes in Spain through this popular show.
"The series is entertaining, until one realises that this show is actually shaping public perceptions of Islam and Spain's Muslims, and that the six million Spanish viewers who tune in every Tuesday night take the show quite seriously," Aidi wrote. "Viewers don't see it as a comical, distorted depiction of North Africa, but as a reliable source of information on Islamic culture and Muslim family life. In reality, El Principe is evidence of just how backwards Spain's discourse on diversity and immigration is."
In her article, Aidi goes on to discuss the problems within Spanish society that threaten the Muslim community that aren't accurately addressed in El Principe. For example, how it fails to address the issues in Spanish policy faced by Muslim-Spaniards, but instead paints the problems as strictly cultural and societal. In the same vein, the show utilizes outdated and offensive jargon, "moro" or Moor, for the Muslim community in the show, instead of the politically correct "Musulmano/a". The protagonists of the story are green eyed and fair skinned, while the villains are dark eyed and darker complexions. Her examples continue, but the sentiment is the same: inaccuracy is detrimental.
I believe that it's not unfair to address such hot button topic as terrorism in popular culture, in fact it can be a powerful tool for breaking down stereotypes and allow the general public to consume accurate information from a source that they are seeking out on their own. However, these are controversial topics for a reason, and need to be handled with the utmost care. While the storyline of El Principe is fiction, the lives of Muslims in Spanish (and many other societies) are not. It's important to stress the reality of the situation in entertainment, to avoid the perpetuation of false stereotypes in society.
Read Aidi's full article here: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2015/10/muslims-spain-151004085759468.html