Writing heroes we love to hate and hate to love

Whether you’re writing for the screen or the page, having an anti-hero character is becoming increasingly common. The reason is simple: anti-heroes, being much less determinedly honorable, are often easier to relate to. We see ourselves more easily in the anti-hero, someone who is far from perfect in a world that seems determined to make them miserable.

It’s here where a lot of confusion can start to crop up, because from where I’m sitting there’s a lot of overlap between the Reluctant Hero type and the Anti-Hero type. If you think about it, the anti-hero has plenty of reasons to be reluctant. Maybe they’ve done this before and don’t want to do it again. Maybe they know their abilities aren’t up to snuff. Maybe they just don’t want to have to sit through another one of the hero’s “Love, Honor, Friendship” speeches for the 40th time. And it is within these insecurities and annoyances that we find a kind of camaraderie, a parallel in our day-to-day lives.

Do we have to save the world?

So you’ve got your anti-hero. She doesn’t want to save the world, and she’s being kind of a jerk about it already. But of course she has to go, otherwise you have no story and that simply won’t do. How do we motivate her? Let’s use that friend of all Tumblr geeks aficionados, the Alignment Chart:

Man I miss this show. Via tall-T on DeviantArt, see it here.

Your traditional hero would be in the Lawful Good or Neutral Good categories – both want to achieve a goal they see as being moral. The former’s focus on is on achieving that goal while following the rules, while the latter is more flexible on following the rules to achieve said goal. Your anti-hero, on the other hand, is probably going to fall either into one of the neutral categories, where their motivation has nothing to do with the morality of the goal in question, or they’ll be in the chaotic good category, where they do what needs to be done to achieve the moral good.

One of my favorite examples of a neutral anti-hero is Rincewind the Wizard from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, who is described as being such a coward he’s gone all the way around to being a hero again. Rincewind isn’t a reluctant hero, he is adamant that he will not go on this quest, spending all his time and energy trying and failing to avoid confrontations that will require him to do anything remotely heroic. When he’s first introduced to us in The Color of Magic, he offers to help out a tourist visiting the city of Ankh-Morpork, only to find himself smack in the middle of an interstate diplomatic spat. It’s hilariously funny, but it’s also induces our sympathy. Rincewind didn’t ask for this. He was just trying to do a nice thing (and yeah, okay, make some good money, fine. But that’s not a crime!) and now he’s on the hit list of a minister in a country he’s never even seen before.

(Or something along those lines. I’ll admit now that it’s been a while since I’ve read The Color of Magic.)

An anti-hero that’s a better fit under Chaotic Good is Jessica Jones of MarvelxNetflix’s (Marvflix?) Jessica Jones. Jessica, like Rincewind, is our protagonist, and she’s absolutely the hero in the sense that she has actual superhero powers. But again, she doesn’t want to be the hero. Given the choice, she would trade her powers and her trauma for a quiet life private detectiv-ing. But once she sees what must be done, she throws herself fully into stopping the psychotic and powerul killer on the loose. Once she’s made her decision, she does whatever it takes to achieve that goal.

Putting the parts together

So what does this tell us about effective anti-heros? They need to have a couple basic characteristics:

  • Personal reasons to root for them: In any story, we don’t just root for the good guy because they’re not the bad guy. This is not an election. We root for them because of some inherent characteristic within them that makes them “worthy” of the win. With Jessica, we want her to defeat Killgrave not only because he’s a terrible person and a murderer, but because we want Jessica to overcome her trauma. Jessica deserves to defeat him because of everything he did to her, and we sympathize with that. Yes, it is a revenge, but revenge is arguably the oldest and most relatable motive in history.
  • Ultimately be good people, for a given amount of goodness: Kris Noel writes that even the hero has to have a balance of negative and positive characteristics to make them real. This is of course true for the anti-hero as well. They can’t just be surly, unlovabale jerks who happen to be in the right place at the right time for our story. Take Rincewind: he’s a coward, and given a choice he would go home and let the world around him explode. But he’s also a humble, kindhearted, and helpful person, and definitely much less of selfish, short-sighted jerk than many of the other wizards we encounter over the course of Discworld. 
  • They have relationships that create human stakes: Someone needs to care if these people die. After all, if no one in the actual story cares about them, why should you? Jessica Jones has an adoptive sister who loves her and a kinda-sorta love interest. Rincewind has his friend the Librarian and the Luggage (which technically isn’t a person, but can still feel so it counts). Throughout his many adventures, he’s also able to make enough of a pathetic positive impression on people that someone somewhere will care enough to try to help him escape whoever’s chasing him this time. This is actually a crucial part of all Rincewind’s stories. Someone has to help hide him, because you can only run for so long.

Within these basic structures, there’s plenty of room to develop a character that drives your story. Maybe she’s more reluctant than anti, or more anti than reluctant. Maybe she’s the anti-hero of the bad guys, or the anti-hero of law enforcement. Go wild.

Who are some of your favorite anti-heroes in books, television, or movies? Comment below!
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Oscar Schwartz demonstrates why poetry is weird

I feel like this post needs a disclaimer: I don’t like poetry.

The dislike has been a long-standing one, reaching back to middle school days when poetry, reading and writing, was a significant part of my class’s English assignments. I always stumbled on these assignments, because a) directed to find and put together words that rhyme in a way that makes sense, my brain would immediately begin to malfunction, and b) I didn’t understand why I had create a poem when it would be so much easier to just write what I wanted to say in a nice, solid paragraph.

So when the TEDTalks YouTube channel suggested this video to me, “Can a computer write poetry?”, my immediate concern was how this would be applicable to middle school English assignments.

Let me tell you now that this is not what the video is about.

In the video, writer Oscar Schwartz brings poetry into the world of sci-fi, using a computer algorithm that takes words from a selected source and then uses those words to create a “poem.” Interestingly enough, this was one of the first ways software engineers, as early as the 1950s, attempted to test a computer’s capacity for original thought.

The results, which are extremely varied, are really part of a wider philosophical discussion on what constitutes humanity, as Schwartz rightly points. Within that discussion, many questions are raised: What constitutes original thought? What factors lead us to perceive certain things as being innately human, while others are easily mistaken for the work of an artificial being? What does that say about the human who created the latter work? How does our perception of a work of self-expression affect our belief in its value?

More importantly, does this mean we can now eliminate poetry modules from English curricula?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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On food and family with author Diana Abu-Jaber

Diana Abu-Jaber is an award-winning author, with multiple books exploring identity and heritage through the lenses of language and food. She’s also written for The Washington Post and The New Yorker, among other publications, and today we have the distinct pleasure of featuring her in The Quibblerview! Diana talked about her inspiration and her new culinary memoir, Life Without A Recipe.

Diana Abu-Jaber, from her website.

When did you first begin writing, and what was your first published piece?
I started writing before I knew how to write. My family was filled with story-tellers, so the experience of making stories, their shape and arc and form, was  very familiar to me. Summer vacations, starting around fourth grade, were taken up with writing novels in my school notebooks. The first real work I published was actually some poetry when I was an undergraduate in college. The Windsor Review published a couple of my poems and sent me twenty dollars-it was thrilling.
Your new book is a culinary memoir, but this isn’t the first time you’ve written about the impact of food on your life. How would you say cooking and writing intersect for you? What are the ways in which the craft involved in both is the same, and what are the ways in which it is different?
Writing and cooking are both creative, intuitive, improvisational pursuits-they also rely on focus, testing, and revision. And cooking is a wonderful metaphor for all sorts of human experiences and ways of seeing. But there’s a real timer on food that makes it a challenging, evanescent medium to work with. You have to time your dishes; you have to make sure ingredients are ripe but not overly so; you have to serve hot or cold or just so. The great mercy with writing is that-at least most of the time- you can take your time. The longer you work on most writing projects, the richer, better, more developed they become. Unless, of course, you’ve worked something to death, then you’ve got another problem.
Your books seem to cover a wide range of topics. What inspires you to write? What are some of the things you try to explore in your writing?
I write to remember, to tell my truth, to entertain myself and my friends, and in large part, I write to try to better understand myself-what I feel and think-as well as to try to better understand those around me. I seem to be haunted by issues of culture and identity, family and community, and of course food-that always seems to show up in my work, even when I’m not trying to write about it.

How do you go about constructing your novels? Do you start with the characters, the plot, or a mixture of both?
I don’t usually follow the same path-it changes from project to project. But in general, I prefer starting with a storyline of some sort-not really a whole plot, but some sort of hook or angle. My thriller Origin started when I woke up one day with a character’s voice in my head telling me her life story.

My first memoir was organized around specific food memories about cookies and baking. But my new memoir, Life Without a Recipe, began as a response to the advice I got from my writing teachers that I could be a parent or a writer but I couldn’t be both. I’d felt haunted by those voices and, after years of writing-and parenting-I wanted to answer.

What is the very first thing you do when starting a novel? And what is the last thing you when you’ve completed it?
It’s a pretty organic process for me, so I don’t have a kind of identifiable ritual or pattern. Novels start in the imagination, in dreams and conversations and observations; they accumulate. For me, there’s a lot of thinking and note-taking. Once I’ve dreamed up a story-arc, I’ll usually try to cobble together an outline, maybe do a bit of research, and soon after that I’ll attempt writing a first page.
“Completion” is an even more approximate term– there are drafts upon drafts upon drafts. I beg friends and family to read and give me feedback. Even after my agent has weighed in and my editor has sent me notes, there are more revisions as well as copy edits. Through it all, I’m plagued by uncertainty, the eternal sense of incompletion, that it can’t possibly be done. Eventually, I try to console myself with that wonderful quote: art is never finished only abandoned. And, as soon as I can, I try to start something new.
Who are some of the authors whose styles you admire?
Virigina Woolf; Michael Ondaatje; James Joyce, Ray Carver; Chekhov; Marilynne Robinson; Annie Proulx; Anton Shammas; M.F.K. Fisher, Louise Erdrich, and about a million others.
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Link Bank: July 2016

This month it’s all about the craft at the Link Bank, with advice on writing and film-making from the experts:

The Visual Writer’s Guide to Pacing and Tension – Sacha Black

“Once you’re knee-deep wading through the slush of your story, you know as well as I do, you can’t see the commas for the sentences. Let alone step back enough to see the shape of your newly trimmed bush manuscript.”

The Secret to Sequels is in the Details – Film School Rejects

“For a lot of sequels, adding characters audiences will latch onto should be a no-brainer for the studios. Often it’s a way to give kids a new toy to buy, and that’s surely Disney’s original thinking behind both Hank and BB-8, but to sell those toys the characters have to leave a mark on viewers, and that benefits audiences not concerned with such merchandise because great characters are still great characters.”

5 Tips To Finish Your First Draft – Writers in the Storm

“Even with the looming due date and clear path, I still have those days where I stare at the screen digging for the right phrase, clueless how to take a scene from point A to point B. I wander through the words—a babe lost in the woods. It sucks. But it’s not my first rodeo (truly, I’ve been to a real rodeo in Wyoming) and I’ve learned a few tricks of the trade.”

50 Blog Topics for Fiction Writers – Mixtus Media

“Blogs are a great way to think outside of the box, challenge yourself as a writer and, as an added bonus, engage and grow your audience.”

How To Write A Screenplay – The Write Practice

“In college, I took a class with John Wilder, a veteran film and TV writer, who began the class by writing, “STRUCTURE! STRUCTURE! STRUCTURE!” on the chalkboard in big bold letters. “What’s the most important part of a screenplay?” he would ask at the beginning of nearly every class. It was obvious what he thought: Structure.”

Looking for even more advice? Check out How To Write Everything by David Quantick, Stephen King’s memoir On Writing, and more How-Tos at the bookstore.

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The truth is underrated: A review of “The White Lie” by Andrea Gillies

Some time ago I read a book called The White Lie by Scottish writer Andrea Gillies. I want to write about it because it was a very interesting, if not completely successful, book.

The thing that intrigued me about The White Lie is that it’s written from the perspective of a dead person, Michael, and spans decades and generations. The book actually starts with a family tree, and to me this is like a flashing neon sign that says “THIS BOOK WILL BE CONFUSING.” And it was – several people who are referenced are dead, and the family, a noble Scottish clan whose patriarch lives in a manor dating to, one assumes, medieval times, has a tendency to recycle names. Thus Ottilie is Michael’s mother and also his great-great-aunt, or possibly his great-grandmother (see what I mean?), but generally this doesn’t prevent you from following along.

Spoilers in wait beyond this point

The plot goes thusly (major spoiler alert!!!): Michael is killed by his aunt in a boat accident – she hits him with an oar and he drowns. (It’s not clear what’s going on with his aunt exactly. She’s very intelligent but lacks basic social skills and acts like a 10-year-old, so maybe something on the autism spectrum? We’re not told, and it seems the family has not tried to figure out exactly what it is). Anyway, the family, in an attempt to protect the aunt from prosecution and save themselves from scandal, tell a white lie – that Michael ran away from home. But Ghost!Michael can now see everything that has happened in and around the loch where he was killed; memories of ugly past events from his family’s unfortunate history. As it turns out, there is a long list of white lies and cover-ups and secrets that family members have been keeping from one another, and Ghost!Michael sinks into every one of them until you don’t know what’s true and what isn’t, until you wonder whether Michael was actually killed in the boat accident or if he survived that but died in some other way at some other time.

If you must haunt, this isn't a bad place to do it. Photo by Moyen Brenn via Flickr.

If you must haunt, this isn’t a bad place to do it. Photo by Moyen Brenn via Flickr.

That aspect of the book’s structure is really interesting and to me, quite unique – the book goes from a calm if depressing certainty, that Michael is dead and his aunt killed him, and becomes more and more uncertain until you reach a peak, a crescendo, where everything is true and everything is false and you start to doubt the basic premise of the story, that Michael is really dead. But as the story winds down things become more and more clear, and one incident in particular, the incident that Gillies certainly wants us to think of as the starting point, becomes exceedingly obvious. That’s part of the reason why I enjoyed the book – by the time Gillies is ready to reveal to us this major point, most readers will have already guessed it, so she doesn’t make a big deal out of it. She knows, we know, but it has to be said to break the hold it has over us as readers and over the family itself. This is where the book stumbles, because ultimately the family’s secret stays a secret to some of its own members, and so the pressure of the book is never fully released. It may be more realistic that some secrets are always kept, but it’s not as artistic.

Another point I didn’t like was that the Gillies, while otherwise successful at painting three-dimensional characters, resorts to a black-and-white characterization between Ottillie, Michael’s mother, and her twin sister Joan. Joan becomes a kind of evil twin to Ottillie despite the fact that Gillies recognizes Ottillie’s personal flaws. Yet Joan is portrayed as vindictive and mean-spirited in a way that Ottillie never is, even though, in my view, she is just as bad if less obvious. Perhaps it’s just that we cannot trust Michael’s narration – she is his mother after all, and he’s dead. But even so, Ottillie’s ultimate explanation for some of her choices, which I won’t share here, left me feeling disappointed in her character and even turned off by her. I felt that we were expected to buy into Joan being this bad person and Ottillie having somehow been the victim of her sister’s admittedly nasty attitude, but I just couldn’t accept that.

Ultimately, The White Lie is a book that feels familiar while at the same time going beyond conventional plot forms, and I greatly appreciated that. Definitely a great read and one I would recommend to those looking for something out of the box.

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The case for close-ended shows

Does it though? Image by Brandon Martin-Anderson via Flickr.

You, the reader, probably don’t watch a whole lot of Arabic television, but I do. But this not a list of the differences between Arabic and English television shows. That would be too long.

No, this is the case for incorporating one particular aspect of Arabic drama into the world of Western television, and that aspect is the closed ending.

Consider: the most satisfying aspect of a story in any format is that it’s building towards some kind of climax, followed by a winding down to a sensible end. This is story arcs 101, and there’s a reason for that: it works. When you don’t have a specified end, you force the story to continue in ways that are inorganic and ultimately dissatisfying.

Couldn’t be any simpler. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Think about it, how many of your favorite shows ended up going down the tubes after three or four seasons, rehashing old plot-lines and resorting to obnoxious guest characters to force humor and/or drama where none can grow?

Or even worse, how many shows were cancelled after one or two seasons, leaving the dedicated viewer grasping at straws, forced to resort to that dark side of the Internet, fanfiction, in a desperate attempt to gain some form of closure?

Compare that to your average Arabic television drama, which wraps up in quick and easy 30 episodes. This ensures that the show will have a beginning, a middle, and, thankfully, an end. Within that tried and true structure, you have character development, crisis and resolution, and an overall sense of structure. Even when the end is left purposely open, at least you have a sense that the main plot is wrapped up.

There are, of course, many shows that follow a season format, but that’s usually because they cannot, for whatever reason, resolve the major plot points within 30 episodes. At most you’ve got a story that 90 episodes to end. That’s still much less than the average six-season American television show, which at 22 episodes a season is over 120 episodes! That’s not even taking into consideration the fact that a lot of these episodes involve either a) upping the dramatic ante until it reaches previously unheard of levels of insanity (*cough “Grey’s Anatomy” cough*), b) employing ridiculously convoluted plot twists in an attempt to maintain viewer interest (“Pretty Little Liars” is particularly notorious for this), or c) beating the “will they won’t they” drama to death (“Friends” and, increasingly, “New Girl”).

Stop this plot! In the name of proper storytelling structure!

I’m not alone in thinking our shows go on for way too long: more and more new shows are debuting at just 10 episodes in their first season. In an interview with Variety, television producer and the brains behind Parks and Rec, Mike Schur, says, “…there’s more of a sense that shows should have a number of episodes that befits that idea, instead of just, ‘Let’s do as many as we possibly can.'”

It’s a trend that many credit to networks like HBO, AMC, and Starz. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s not enough. The problem is not the number of episodes per season, it’s the number of episodes overall. So I say it’s time to take a page out of the book of Arabic television and commit only to shows that have both a start and an end.

Goodbye show. We knew ye a little too well.

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By http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/73/6b/1b0b57f1eae055d4fa81dd3e7f59.jpgGallery: http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/L0013843.html, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35966438

Watch the “cultural big bang” courtesy of Google Culture Institute

There are times, after three hours have dissipated into thin air with nothing to mark their existence except a few retweets, when I wish the internet was never invented. One imagines what one could have accomplished in that time, what wonders could have been created, what knowledge gained.

And then, there are other times. Times when the internet is the reason for wonders and knowledge. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…

THIS!

Okay, perhaps an explanation is in order. In this video, the director of Google’s Arts and Culture Project, Amit Sood, talks about how the project is in essence making art galleries and museums accessible to people all over the world.

The amazing thing about this, as the video demonstrates, is that when you bring art from all over the world together like this, it gives you the opportunity not only to discover arts from different cultures, but to see the connections between those different cultures. You can see how different styles and formats traveled and influenced developing cultures. It’s a “cultural big bang,” as Amit says, but it’s more than that, it’s a cultural Pangea too.

You can see where a thing starts, how it travels, and where it ends up.

What’s particularly great about this is that not only can you see art from all over the world, you can experience it in a way that isn’t usually possible in real life. The zoom feature, for example, lets you see a level detail that’s usually denied to the average museum visitor. Check out this close-up screenshot I took of “The Fisherman Unable to Hold the Giant Fish,” by Manohar Das circa 1595:

"The Fisherman Unable to Hold the Giant Fish" Manohar Das, 1595, Cincinnati Art Museum, via Google Cultural Institute.

“The Fisherman Unable to Hold the Giant Fish” Manohar Das, 1595, Cincinnati Art Museum, via Google Cultural Institute.

Even on this screen, you can see so much detail: the strokes of the brush, the way the colors are blended together to create different shades, the overlay of different textures on top of one another. It’s amazing! As wonderful as it is to visit actual museums in person and see these things in real life, the fact is that such institutions you often cannot touch the artifacts or see them up close. This project, which is still in beta, is an opportunity not just for those for whom museums and art galleries are not easily accessible, but for anyone with fascinated by how art is created and maintained.

There are probably some pertinent questions to be raised at the idea of Google storing all this cultural heritage, given its already in-depth access to so much of our personal information and, of course, purchasing habits. But I have to say, if this is what Google is planning to use its world dominion for, I’m for one am on board. All hail the mighty Google and its artistic database!

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Photographer Sheri Bigelow and the meaning of cute

Today I’m very excited to introduce The Quibblerview, an interview series exploring the inspiration, talent, and pure hard work that creative people put into their content. For our first installment, meet photographer Sheri Bigelow.

Sheri is a lifelong photographer who shares her work on her blog, Cuteness, In All It’s Versatility. Her work combines beautiful vistas with unique angles and playful light and shade. I spoke with her about her background and her techniques.

How did you get into photography? What’s the first thing you took a photo of as a “photographer”?

I’ve loved photography for as long as I can remember. I’m not sure what the first thing was that I photographed, but it was probably something boring. Over time, and after looking back through a lot of old photographs recently, I’m finding that the pictures I love most are of people. It’s an amazing feeling when someone loves a photograph I’ve shot of them, and several people have used photos I’ve taken as their Gravatar—which I feel is a pretty cool compliment.

“This one is great because it’s a unique perspective,” Sheri says, “a different way of looking at an icy, wintry world for a moment.” See the original here.

Your blog is called “Cuteness, in all its versatility.” How do you define cuteness? And how do you identify it as a subject for your work?

The name “Cuteness, in all its versatility” came about because I was told I tend to overuse the word cute! I probably used that word for anything and everything and anything for a while, and so the definition became a bit fuzzy in my world. To me, it means something I like, and so anything goes as a subject, it can be anything that’s interesting or intriguing or silly or beautiful.

Sheri says, “I love this one because other people loved it and because it’s a good memory of a good place and time. It was taken under Scripps Pier in San Diego.” See the original here.

What kind of equipment do you use, and why?

For everyday things, I shoot with an iPhone 6S. I love it. Shooting with an iPhone to create memories works really well for most of what I need. When photographing events, I like to shoot with either Canon or Nikon with the fastest lenses I can get. Often I’ll shoot with a 70-200mm f/2.8 because you can get better candid shots from a distance while staying on the sidelines. I also really like shooting with a 50mm f/1.2 prime or a 24-70mm f/2.8.

What do you look for in a subject in terms of lighting, etc.? How do you know whether a photo will come out the way you envision it?

When taking snapshots or when just photographing something for fun, good lighting is often something you stumble upon. One thing that I have learned is that if you see an opportunity for a photograph in a space that has good light, you should take advantage of it right then because you never know when the light will change! Natural light can change so fast. You don’t always really know whether a photo will come out the way you envision it. The trick is to take a whole lot of photos and then choose the ones that worked out the best.

Sheri says: “I love this photo because it’s not staged but looks just like a stock photo. These are real people working on WordPress at WordCamp US 2016.” See the original here.

Sheri Bigelow is also a UX researcher at Automattic, the geniuses behind WordPress.com. Find her work in UX and theme design at DesignSimply.com.

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Happy Eid! Positive portrayals of Muslims in the media

As some of you may know, tomorrow, Wednesday July 5th, marks the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Fitr. I thought to celebrate, it would be interesting to dig around and find some of the best portrayals of Muslims in the media.

It’s no secret that since 9/11, there has been an increase in hostility towards Muslims and those who appear to be of a racial background associated with Islam – Sikhs in particular, for example, have paid the price for increasing Islamophobia. As a result, the portrayal of Muslims in the media has been overwhelmingly negative. While this is most apparent in the news, it’s also strongly present in creative media as well. This isn’t even just a post-9/11 trend; the documentary “Reel Bad Arabs” incisively demonstrates that degrading stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims in Western media goes back decades.

It’s important, then, to highlight and celebrate the movies, television shows, and books that buck the trend. Here’s five titles that prominently feature characters that are prominently and pointedly Muslim and make them active, sympathetic protagonists. I tried to focus on movies and books that are set in a Western environment, rather than those set primarily in the Middle East or Indian subcontinent. Spoiler alerts all round!

1. Ms. Marvel – Marvel Comics

When Pakistani-American teenager Kamala Khan discovers that she has superhuman powers, she takes on the superhero name Ms. Marvel and goes off to fight crime and the forces of evil! Kamala is not the first Muslim superhero, but she is definitely the first one to be produced by a company with the clout and legacy of Marvel Comics. The comic series marks an important shift in the portrayal of Muslim women in particular.

2. Little Mosque on the Prairie (Six seasons)

CBC’s “Little Mosque on the Prairie” was a big deal when it came out, and no wonder – where else on television can you find Muslim families and in particular a Muslim Imam portrayed so normally? The series follows Amaar Rashid, a big-city lawyer who leaves his lucrative career to become the Imam of a mosque in a small Canadian town. He befriends the many residents, including the Anglican Reverend, whose church basement actually houses the mosque. The show is particularly good in that in showcases a variety of personalities in the Muslim community: there’s the conservative but ultimately loving father, the practical businessman who just wants to keep his costs down, the ambitious, feminist doctor, all part of a larger community of allies and antagonists, who are ultimately united for the greater good of their town.

“Little Mosque on the Prairie” is available on Amazon Prime and Hulu.

3. Arranged (2007)

In “Arranged,” Muslim teacher Nasira feels isolated in the Brooklyn public school where she works – that is, until she meets and befriends fellow teacher Rochel, and Orthodox Jewish woman. The two bond over shared beliefs and values as both go through arranged marriages, arranged here referring to marriages based on introductions set up by family, friends, or a matchmaker. The film not only demonstrates the common ground to be found between Muslims and Jews, but also elucidates religious practices that are often seen negatively in Western society, such as wearing the hijab or dressing modestly in general.

The movie is available on Amazon Prime and Netflix.

4. The Room of Lost Things – Stella Duffy 

Set in London, “The Room of Lost Things” features Akeel Khan as the entrepreneurial son of Pakistani immigrants who works in a dry-cleaning shop under the direction of the owner, Robert Sutton, who is preparing to sell it to him. Akeel is ambitious and hard-working, and, as a bonus, his wife is portrayed as cheerful and intelligent. Unfortunately, she doesn’t feature prominently in the narrative, which focuses on the way the lives of the dry-cleaning customers intersect with the life of Robert Sutton. But the relationship between Akeel and his wife is a supportive and happy one, in stark contrast to the forced marriages narrative that is so often peddled by the media.

5. Sofia Khan is Not Obliged – Ayisha Malik

Londonite Sofia Khan works at a publishing house when her boss asks her to write a “tell-all” book about dating and marriage among the Muslim community. She approaches the idea with skepticism (I don’t blame her), having recently gotten out of a relationship with a man who expected her to live with essentially his entire extended family post-marriage. The book benefits not only from a diary-style format, but also from the fact the focus is less on Sofia’s search for love at the personal level, a classic chick-lit topic, but on her search for love at the academic, exploratory level.

Who are some of your favorite Muslim characters? Share in the comments!

 

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Link Bank: June 2016

This month’s Link Bank explores issues of diversity, representation,  and more…

Who Gets to Tell Other People’s Stories? – NY Times

“There are times when such efforts can appear profoundly self-serving; when bearing witness or showing compassion feels more like public performance than real acknowledgement or understanding of another.”

Asian-American Actors Are Fighting For Their Visibility – NY Times

“It’s never been easy for an Asian-American actor to get work in Hollywood, let alone take a stand against the people who run the place. But the recent expansion of Asian-American roles on television has paradoxically ushered in a new generation of actors with just enough star power and job security to speak more freely about Hollywood’s larger failures.”

X-Men: Apocalypse Needs To Be The End For Bryan Singer – Film School Rejects

“This is a cast that is easily likable, but the creative teams behind it aren’t giving us anything that feels fresh. No matter how many new visual tricks, or beloved characters and moments it adapts from comics, it seems like more of the same. And even though Oscar Isaac is a great actor, Apocalypse is an indistinct big bad whose stakes are so high that it has a numbing effect on the audience. The fact that he looks like Ivan Ooze the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV show just feels like a twisting of the knife. ”

A Cup of Tea With Oliver Sacks – TEDTalks

“Out popped Oliver Sacks, peering at me uncertainly. His prosopagnosia, or face blindness, made him unable to recognize me from my author photo. When I told him who I was, he engulfed me in a great big bear hug.”

How Do Artists Make a Living? – TEDTalks

“After all, artists innovate — it’s what we do, no matter what our medium is. We imagine ways forward that no one else has imagined before, in literature, music, theater, dance, art, performance. There’s no reason we can’t do it with economics as well.”

How Can We Best Help Talented Underrepresented Students? – The Creativity Post

“It was support from teachers that helped students feel connected to school. Further, rigor without attention to social-emotional and talent development proved to be a deal-breaker, especially for adolescents at this critical period of identity development. We came to understand how proactive schools needed to be in building collaboration with families.”

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