Reza Aslan predicts that, in the coming year, there will be more expansive and varied depictions of Muslims coming out of Hollywood. Before we get to the “he’s probably right” part, let’s get to the more important one: Who is Reza Aslan?
He’s a producer, religious scholar, and author. Having earned an audience of studio heads viz. his bestselling book, “Zealot,” he is now developing a network sitcom.
He likened it to “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.”
But before the sitcom comes together, there is his cable news show “Believer” to discuss, destined for CNN in March. In the program, Aslan delves into different religious practices around the world. He himself has likened it to “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” in a Los Angeles Times piece about the show, with faith instead of food as the window for exploring cultures. Hey, he could have gone with Guy Fieri.
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The six-episode series, based on an idea Aslan has been pitching for a few years, is a new move for CNN, which is still reeling from President Donald Trump’s declaration that the network is “fake news.” Is a program that suggests faith and food have similar parallels and appeals really the answer?
Also, how deep is Aslan actually going to go? Will one religion merely be grazed, while another is probed or even mocked? This is, after all, a world in which Alanis Morrissette can play God in a film but Muhammad can’t be depicted in a cartoon.
A creative writing professor who holds a Ph.D. in sociology with a focus on religions, Aslan became a born-again Christian after coming to the U.S. from Iran. He later returned to Islam. This all smacks of shock value, really, with Aslan’s dabbling in various belief systems reeking more of stunt than an actual journey.
That’s not to say his prediction that Hollywood will churn out lots of Muslim material is wrong; in fact, since the president’s temporary ban on immigration from seven nations was announced recently, studio heads have probably endured at least a dozen pitches for films focusing on the Muslim pilgrimage plight. They probably even greenlit a film in which Ben Affleck plays a Bostonian who hides a family in his basement — with Alec Baldwin and Meryl Streep playing husband and wife. “‘Refuge’ … seek it this fall, only in theaters.”
Because, you see, Hollywood is keen on continuing to inflict upon us its self-righteous, fatuous narrative, even more so in the guise of “art.”
Aslan told PJ Media, “Stories have the power to break through the walls that separate us into different ethnicities, different cultures, different nationalities, different races, different religions.”
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It remains to be seen exactly what kind of agenda Aslan has with “Believer.” He’s expressed in the past that his idea for a sitcom would work to normalize the Muslim religion in the eyes of other Americans.
Whether his CNN show will treat religion fairly or like dishes of food — with an agenda thrown in for good measure — will tell us a lot about what Aslan has planned for his future in Hollywood.