A group of graffiti artists hired to bring authenticity to the set of Homeland, the critically acclaimed Showtime series about the war on terrorism and the people fighting it, say they used the opportunity to introduce subversive messages about the show in Arabic, including “Homeland is racist.”
That message—seen in the image on the top of this page—made it to the second episode of the fifth season, which aired earlier this week, as Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) walks past a wall with Arabic script.
The three artists responsible—Heba Amin, Caram Kapp, and Stone—call Homeland “thinly veiled propaganda,” and say they accepted the job to work on the show’s Berlin set in June after receiving a call from a friend who had been contacted by Homeland’s set-production company. The show, they said, was looking for street artists to lend authenticity to a set of a Syrian refugee camp on the Lebanese-Syrian border. Here’s more:
Given the series’ reputation we were not easily convinced, until we considered what a moment of intervention could relay about our own and many others’ political discontent with the series. It was our moment to make our point by subverting the message using the show itself.
The artists said little attention was paid to their actual graffiti, which included messages such as “Homeland is a joke, and it didn’t make us laugh” and “#blacklivesmatter.”
The artist’s wrote: “In their eyes, Arabic script is merely a supplementary visual that completes the horror-fantasy of the Middle East, a poster image dehumanizing an entire region to human-less figures in black burkas and moreover, this season, to refugees.”
Responding to the graffiti and the claim of racism, Alex Gansa, Homeland’s showrunner, told Deadline: “We wish we’d caught these images before they made it to air. However, as Homeland always strives to be subversive in its own right and a stimulus for conversation, we can’t help but admire this act of artistic sabotage.”
That the show is being accused of racism isn’t new. It has been called “the most bigoted show on television,” and almost since it began airing in 2011, critics have complained about its portrayal of Arabs and Muslims. But the show also has its defenders, including this piece in The Atlantic, which said Homeland challenges—not reinforces—stereotypes.
Yair Rosenberg wrote:
In other words, the show questions the security state, reveals the horrific collateral damage of America’s drone program, and pointedly demonstrates how such unaccountable power can lead to corruption. In episode after episode, monochromatic moral thinking—an “us or them” mentality—is shown to be the true villain, rather than one particular nationality or ethnic group.
Yes, the show gets details of Islamic faith and Arab culture wrong … But ignorance should not be mistaken for bigotry, any more than the show’s mangled rendition of the Jewish mourning prayer of Kaddish in its season finale—recited by the CIA officer Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) without the required prayer quorum, and with a line of nonsensical Aramaic at the end—should be mistaken for evidence of anti-Semitism. Error-ridden portrayals of religion are a common offense in Hollywood. More important, though, is whether faith is presented in good faith—which it is.
My colleague Sophie Gilbert, reviewing the new season of Homeland earlier this month, notes “its surprising show of force.”
“There are … plenty of ways in which the show shows its sophistication and complexity, typically when its star is out of the frame,” Sophie says. “When it isn’t hustling for the gotcha moment, jolting viewers awake with surprise after surprise, it’s offering a remarkably insightful take on the compromised morality of everyone involved in the war on terror, regardless of allegiance.”
[T]he series shows its timeliness when it comes to current affairs, tackling ISIS, Hezbollah, surveillance, hacking, an Edward Snowden-esque security breach that dangerously tarnishes the CIA, and the long-term ramifications of the drone strikes Carrie approved when she was in Islamabad. Its situations are never simple; its solutions are never ideal. In one scene, a bearded man of Middle Eastern descent walks shiftily through a station in Berlin, the camera lingering on his bag. In forcing the viewer to confront their own assumptions about what he might be doing, Homeland shows how shrewd it can be. In making none of its characters obvious good guys, even while it presents a handful of cartoonishly alluring baddies, it offers one of the most honest portrayals of contemporary affairs in culture.