During his first visit to a U.S. mosque as president, President Obama weighed in on the issue of diversity in Hollywood casting by calling for American television shows to feature more Muslim characters “that are unrelated to national security.”
Speaking at the Islamic Society of Baltimore Wednesday morning, Obama said Muslim-Americans often feel “invisible” in the United States.
“And part of what we have to do is to lift up the contributions of the Muslim-American community, not when there’s a problem, but all the time,” Obama said.
To that end, Obama — a big fan of the TV series Homeland and The Knick — said that American television shows need to include better representations of the Muslim community. He added that most coverage of Muslims or Islam in America is driven after acts of terrorism “or in distorted media portrayals in TV or film.”
“Our television shows should have some Muslim characters that that are unrelated to national security,” he said. “It’s not that hard to do.”
“There was a time when there were no black people on television,” Obama added. “And you can tell good stories while still representing the reality of our communities.”
Obama’s comments come as the issue of the lack of diversity in Hollywood films and television has exploded over the past month. In January, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences came under fire after nominating exclusively white actors in all four top acting categories at the Oscars for a second consecutive year, which led to the reemergence of the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag and threats of boycott from top industry stars like Will Smith and Spike Lee.
Meanwhile, television networks have fared better at increasing the diversity of their programs. Last month, CBS announced that it had begun looking for a “diverse” lead for its new Nancy Drew reboot, and said the character would “not be Caucasian.” An all-Latino remake of Norman Lear’s classic 70s sitcom One Day At a Time is in the works at Netflix, and ABC is prepping an African-American-led television adaptation of the 1989 John Hughes movie Uncle Buck.
Obama is not the only one who would like to see more Muslims portrayed normally on television. Last month, Iranian-American author and talk show host Reza Aslan said he was “waiting for a Muslim All in the Family” to hit television screens, referring to another classic Lear sitcom.
“Muslims are never going to feel like a part of the American family until people start to make fun of them on TV,” Aslan said at the Television Critics Association winter press tour. “That’s how minds have always been changed in this country.”