The trailer for the upcoming CBS sitcom The United States of Al is being criticized for the casting and portrayal of a U.S. military interpreter from Afghanistan.
Set to premiere April 1, the sitcom centers on the friendship between Riley, a Marine veteran struggling to adjust after returning home to Ohio, and his former interpreter, Awalmir, who is living with Riley and his family after moving to the U.S. from Afghanistan to start a new life.
Many on social media, including members of the performing arts community, have taken issue with the fact that Adhir Kalyan, the actor who portrays Awalmir, is not Afghan.
“I crave Muslim content, but this is offensive,” tweeted Maysoon Zayid, an actress on General Hospital who is Muslim and Palestinian.
“I know the producer has other credits, and I honestly believe his heart was in the right place,” tweeted Broadway performer Pia Glenn. “But at some point, the decision presented itself to make either a sitcom or a show honoring Afghan soldiers, and he chose the former.”
Executive Producer Reza Aslan, who is from Iran and produced the documentary series The Secret Life of Muslims, defended the sitcom on social media, emphasizing that all critics have seen at this point is the trailer. “You can’t judge a show by a 30-second trailer,” he said, adding that four of the five Afghan characters on the show are played by Afghans.
Some critics are concerned the sitcom’s portrayal would whitewash and stereotype nuanced relationships between U.S. military members and Afghan interpreters.
“You are literally talking about a true story,” Alsan said in response to those who worried the storyline was romanticized. “There are dozens and dozens of Afghan interpreters living with U.S. soldiers. We know because we actually spoke to them. This is literally their story.”
Aslan also said the show works “hand in hand” with No One Left Behind, a nonprofit dedicated to “ensuring that America keeps its promise to our interpreters from Iraq and Afghanistan,” and the International Refugee Assistance Project, which provides “legal advocacy for refugees and displaced people in need of a safe place to call home.”
Fellow Executive Producer Mahyad Tousi added that the characters and storylines had been “mined from deep research and interviews with dozens of folks who have walked in these shoes in order to make nuanced commentary on how war affects people.”
“The only way you will no longer be underrepresented on TV is if people like me try to do something about it, and people like you support it,” Aslan said. “I’ve been misrepresented on TV my whole life. I came to Hollywood to change that.”
Author: Yasharoff, Hannah
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