'Counterpart,' Jamal Khashoggi Honored by the Muslim Public Affairs Council's Hollywood Bureau Media Awards

Courtesy of MPAC Media Awards
From left: Naimah Muhammad, Betty Gabriel and Nijla Mu’min

In a time when Muslims are frequently under attack, Hollywood has begun to take the opposite approach with an aim to be more inclusive.

The Muslim Public Affairs Council's Hollywood Bureau held its 28th annual Media Awards on Sunday night, highlighting those in the industry who are creating inclusive opportunities and authentic portrayals of the Muslim community. 

This year's honorees included Counterpart's Betty Gabriel and Justin Marks, the Washington Post's Jamal Khashoggi and Karen Attiah, and Jinn writer/director Nijla Baseema Mu’min. These three honorees were selected because of their importance in reflecting Muslims more truly and deeply, said MPAC director Sue Obeidi. 

Starz's Counterpart was a show the council actively consulted on, Obeidi said, and "we just saw how hard they were working in getting the story not just right, not just dotting their i's and crossing their t's, but really going above and beyond to make sure that the character was authentic."

Jinn, Mu'min's debut film, was recognized because of its focus on the rarified space in telling stories about the black Muslim community, particularly black Muslim women, and journalist Khashoggi, who was killed in October in Saudi Arabia, was honored posthumously. Attiah, Khashoggi's editor, was also honored because "after his murder, she really kept his legacy alive by highlighting his work, so we felt like we needed to honor [Karen] for her courageous acts in keeping the story alive and looking out for the protection of journalists worldwide," Obeidi said. 

Held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles, the awards — the largest yet in MPAC history — were attended by Franklin Leonard and singer Naimah Muhammad. The show is a staple of MPAC's mission, as the group has expanded to consult on the portrayal of Muslim characters for major Hollywood projects including Grey's Anatomy, Jack Ryan, The Affair, and the upcoming Aladdin

In a time when Muslims are frequently under attack, Obeidi said, Hollywood has begun to take the opposite approach to be more inclusive of the group. 

"From our perspective, we feel that ever since Trump ran for the presidency, we started noticing the industry reaching out to us more than they ever had before; it became more proactive from the industry side, where before it was us kind of knocking on doors and requesting meetings," she told The Hollywood Reporter. As an example, "Shonda Rhimes' Shondaland reached out to us right after the election and basically said, 'Shonda wants to create a Muslim character.' Before then, that never really happened. Since then, it's been happening a lot."

In the last three years, Obeidi said, the group has been involved in more and more writers' rooms talking about character growth and how to enhance a storyline about Muslim people, rather than do damage control, as they had in the past.

While there are still great strides to be made, the MPAC director feels confident in saying, "We will one day have our own Fresh off the Boat or The Goldbergs or Modern Family, we will, so that is something I want to see, where we have a sitcom or drama about a Muslim family."