'Queer Eye for the Straight Guy' Director Educates With 'Secret Life of Muslims'

The Secret Life of Muslims-Publicity 1-H 2019
Terrence Bishop

The series, going into its second season, addresses identity and prejudice in America.

The idea for Secret Life of Muslims was thought of several years ago but funding was difficult to find for the producers. Then as Donald Trump began running for president in 2016, funding picked up and the series aired a week before the election. The Emmy- and Peabody-nominated show that has been covered by The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Vox and CBS Sunday Morning, now has a second season. And the team behind the series has been going around the U.S. with several of the castmembers to educate and discuss the stories shown.

Director and series creator, Joshua Seftel, told The Hollywood Reporter at a screening and panel discussion at UTA in Beverly Hills on Thursday that thankfully Trump running for election created “this sense of urgency and we got funding.” Seftel said the show came to him after he saw a statistic that showed more than half of Americans have an unfavorable view of Muslims, which brought him back to being bullied due to his religion. "Kids threw pennies at me because they wanted to remind me Jews were cheap," he said.

Discussing his past work that often bring humor and empathy together, like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Seftel said, “It has to be entertaining and catch your attention.”

“We could have made an earnest documentary about being gay in America but we made this fun show and it worked," he added. "There is a hunger for this kind of content because there is not enough of it.”

Seftel said that the series has high ambitions for next season, including a musical number about Muslims with dancers and performers from Hamilton and Jersey Boys working with Big Mouth songwriter Mark Rivers.

Castmember Amaiya Zafar is also a young female boxer who challenged officials on a rule that she could not wear a full-body uniform and hijab in the rink and would be disqualified from her match. In April of 2017, the U.S. boxing rule changed and two years later changed internationally because of her demands. “When they told me I was disqualified there was never a moment where I thought about quitting. I was always going to fight and I was going to fight with my hijab," Zafar said, adding that she wanted to be part of the series, “to meet people that are all like-minded, to see people trying to promote me and other Muslims and our stories — that’s dope.”

Adeel Alam, known in the WWE world as Mustafa Ali, also participated in the panel moderated by KPCC's Misha Euceph and said that shows like this “are important because they open up dialogue and conversation to talk about identity and what actually defines you.” Alam told THR that the show has reach beyond just the Muslim community “I have had more non-Muslim fans come up to me during these events, people who know me from WWE, who now know it is OK to talk to me, to ask me questions about my religion.”

Richard “Mac” McKinney, an ex-marine who planned to detonate an explosive at a mosque but, after stepping into the mosque and being given a Koran, become a practicing Muslim himself eight weeks later, talked about how his life has changed from the series. “Islam is accepting of other religions and love other people just for the fact they are human beings” McKinney told THR. “Being educated you learn people are human beings, and I am an example [that] people can change, and that is what this series is trying to do.”