pilot season

ABC Family Pulls the Plug on Alice in Arabia

It took them a few days, but ABC Family has finally realized that a show about a semi-orphaned American teenage girl kidnapped by her extended royal Saudi Arabian family and forced to live with them isn’t such a great idea. As a result, they won’t be moving forward with Alice in Arabia, the pilot of which the network ordered last Monday.

It turns out that the script, written by U.S. Army veteran Brooke Eikmeier and obtained by BuzzFeed on Friday, confirmed activists’ fears about how Muslims would be portrayed on the show. Though ABC Family described Alice in Arabia as “nuanced and character driven” and intended “to give Arabs and Muslims a voice on American TV,” BuzzFeed’s Rega Jha found it much more similar to 1991’s Not Without My Daughter, about an American citizen married to an Iranian man who eventually traps her and their child in his native country.

Jha points out, “The show relies on a particular cliche in descriptions of Muslim women: that they are normal despite being Muslim because they too wear underwear and read magazines.” She added that the the draft she saw “broadly plays on a familiar narrative of a beautiful girl kidnapped from the United States by sinister Arabs, held against her will in the desert, and threatened with early marriage.” Abed Ayoub, legal director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, explained to BuzzFeed, “Arabs are always portrayed as one of 3 B’s: billionaires, bellydancers, or bombers. But with most problematic shows, there is always room for debate. With this particular show there is none. We haven’t run into anything this egregious in a while.” On Friday morning, an ABC Family spokesperson told Jha it was “irresponsible” to “pre-judge” a show that hadn’t yet been made.

However, by Friday evening, before ABC Family’s meeting with Council on American-Islamic Relations to discuss the pilot, executives at the Disney-owned cable channel decided to pull the plug. “The current conversation surrounding our pilot was not what we had envisioned and is certainly not conducive to the creative process, so we’ve decided not to move forward with this project,” a spokesman told The Hollywood Reporter. CAIR responded with a Saturday statement saying, “We welcome ABC Family channel’s decision to respond to community concerns by canceling plans for a program that had the potential to promote ethnic and religious stereotyping.”