The uproar over Roseanne Barr’s “ape” joke about Valerie Jarrett killed the star’s ABC sitcom faster than one can say “reboot” — but it’s the lack of outrage over the other part of her tweet that has some of Hollywood’s Muslim community speaking out.
Barr insulted Jarrett, a former Obama adviser, on Tuesday, tweeting: “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.” Within hours, ABC pulled the plug on its highest-rated show, calling her tweet “repugnant.”
The backlash focused on the second half of Barr’s tweet, which likened Jarrett, a black woman, to an ape — a comparison with a centuries-long racist history. Meanwhile the first half, about the Muslim Brotherhood, was largely ignored.
“Roseanne Barr’s comments about Muslims sort of fell through the cracks and took a back seat to the ‘Planet of the Apes’ comment,” said Sue Obeidi, director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council’s Hollywood Bureau (MPAC), which consults on industry film and television projects in an effort to fight Muslim stereotypes.
“Muslims in Hollywood, be they producers, screenwriters, directors, or actors, need to work on holding the industry accountable to do the right thing,” she said.
Pej Vahdat, an Iranian-born actor best known for his role on the TV series “Bones,” told TheWrap the lack of scrutiny over her Muslim comment was “unfortunate.”
“I feel like we’re forgotten,” he said.
Barr’s tweet was the topic of conversation at MPAC’s “Iftar” celebration, the evening meal with which Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast. The event, held at the Sunset Bronson Studios Wednesday evening, included about 120 Muslims and non-Muslim industry insiders from Disney/ABC Television Group, NBCUniversal, Hulu, Netflix, Legendary Television, The Sundance Institute, and CAA, among others.
While many, like Vahdat, said they felt “encouraged” by ABC’s response, some wondered whether the network would have reacted so swiftly if Barr’s offending tweet only focused on Muslims.
“I don’t even think it would have even trended,” Vahdat said, “and that’s a sad fact.”
Hollywood doesn’t have a spotless track record when it comes to the depiction of Muslims. Hit shows like Fox’s “24,” which aired from 2001 to 2010, and Showtime’s “Homeland,” have both been accused of perpetuating the stereotype of Muslims as terrorists.
Even Disney movies have been criticized for their negative portrayal of Muslim characters. According to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimation Committee, “Aladdin’s” lead light-skinned characters, Aladdin and Jasmine, had “Anglicized features and Anglo-American accents,” while the swarthy dark-skinned characters included “cruel palace guards or greedy merchants with Arabic accents and grotesque facial features.” (MPAC has consulted on the script for Disney’s live-action “Aladdin” film, scheduled for a 2019 release).
“I’m so desensitized to Islam being ripped in the press and by celebrities that it didn’t even get on my radar,” Farhoud Meybodi, a Muslim writer, director and producer, told TheWrap about Roseanne’s tweet. “And maybe that’s the shame.”
Meybodi said it was clear Barr was using the Muslim Brotherhood, a political group with known extreme ideology, as a “pejorative.”
“It’s using someone’s faith as a means to bringing them down,” he said.
Barr apologized for her remarks in a series of tweets Tuesday and Wednesday, at one point claiming that the remarks were the result of “Ambien tweeting,” referring to the prescription sleep aid whose side effects include sleepwalking and binge-eating while sleeping. But her apology rang hollow among many Hollywood Muslims.
“The month of Ramadan is a very special time for Muslims,” Obeidi said. “The fact that so much hate has been spewed by Roseanne Barr is just insulting and hurtful not just for Muslims and the African American community, but for humanity.”
The return of “Roseanne” was criticized even before it began airing last season, thanks in part to Barr’s outspoken political views and history of incendiary comments. Then came the revelation that the show’s main character, Roseanne Conner, would be a Trump supporter in the show’s revival, just like Barr.
And in a recent May episode, Roseanne Conner recoils when she discovers her new neighbors are Muslims, only to realize later that they too are just people.
“She ridiculed a Muslim and then they generously allowed her the use of their internet and thus she was taught a life-lesson on how not to marginalize and maybe view Muslims differently,” Mike Mosallam, a writer, director and producer, told TheWrap. “So I think the veil is quite thin.”
“The positive thing to come out of this is that maybe now people know that there is a red line and that you can’t say whatever you want,” Vahdat said. “And you can’t blame it on taking Ambien.”