Represent Us Correctly

by Jenin Mannaa

The recent diversity portrayed in movies like Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians has been invigorating to people of color who crave representation in the media. However, as Naveed A. Khan declares in his poem Make Up Your Mind, “Diversity is not a flavor of coffee or a special pastry for you to pick and choose to your liking.” And recently, Netflix has been treating the representation of Muslim women as if it was an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet.

The release of Netflix’s Cuties incited a wave of controversy that stemmed from the character arc of Amy, a West African Muslim girl that becomes fascinated with a free spirited dance crew. In an effort to liberate herself from the “oppressive clutches” of her religion, she removes her hijab and gives in to her desire to twerk with friends. In one scene in the film, she even watches twerking videos on a stolen cell phone during a prayer service. However, Amy Nicholson from Variety describes one of the most “powerful scenes” in the movie. When Amy’s aunt attempts to make Amy repent for her sins, Amy thrashes violently out of resentment. Nicholson observes, “The flailing girl looks like she’s suffering—and she also looks like she’s twerking.”

After reading this review, I had to laugh. Hollywood’s obsession with Muslim women removing their hijab and choosing sexual ethics over their faith is exasperating. It pushes the idea that Muslim women are oppressed, when liberation is characterized by the ability to choose what you want to wear or cover. Writers and directors are put in a position of influence, yet they persistently refuse to research the narratives of the people they are representing.

Commonly, non-Muslim people believe that women wear a hijab because it serves as a form of protection from the sexual wantonness of men. They believe that a woman wearing a hijab is akin to a pearl in an oyster, encouraging the notion that precious objects are meant to be hidden. On the contrary, wearing the hijab is indicative of a woman’s desire to be valued separately from her sexuality. That being said, sexual harassment can only ever be attributed to immorality and never to what an individual is wearing.

So, in an effort to debunk the media’s muddled perceptions of Islam, I will delineate the only real reason Muslim women choose to wear the hijab: to display that they are Muslim. To wear the hijab is to show belief in Allah (Allah is the Arabic word for God) and His prophet, Muhammad (peace be upon him). Muslim women do not wear the hijab for the sake of their husbands, fathers, or brothers— or to abstain from joining dance groups with underaged girls. Hollywood continuously exploits the stereotypes circulating about Islam. While representation in the media is necessary, it is imperative to understand a religion before misconstruing its principles. For the sake of Muslim women around the world, and the young women wearing hijabis to come—represent us correctly.

About Jenin Mannaa

Jenin Mannaa is a rising senior at Dunlap High School. Her stellar academic performance has granted her entrance to the National Honors Society at her school. Jenin has expressed her love for advocacy through her involvement on the Dunlap Speech Team as Junior and Senior Captain. Within speech, her primary goal has been expressing her identity as a Muslim American woman. Jenin attended IHSA State for Oratorical Declamation her junior year of high school. Within her speech team, she was also awarded Sophomore and Junior MVP. Jenin’s passion for the arts is evident through her involvement in Stage 323, where she was inducted in the International Thespian Society. She has also been involved in Concert Choir, Women’s Chorale, and Show Choir throughout her high school career. Moreover, her devotion to garnering support for ethnic minorities motivated Jenin to create Dunlap’s UNICEF Club, which educates students about the tribulations of underprivileged individuals in impoverished countries. Within UNICEF, she leads fundraisers, and within the first few months of the club she raised approximately $500. During her summers, Jenin has spent over 200 hours volunteering at the Unity-Point Methodist Hospital within the daycare or shadowing various doctors within Peoria.

About Sophie Liu 

Sophie Liu is a senior at Dunlap High School who has won numerous art prizes such as the Scholastic Art and Writing Gold Key Award and several honorable mentions. As someone who also values academics, business, and volunteering, she has participated in and led many activities in her community. Her volunteering contribution has awarded her the Gold President’s Volunteer Service Award. She is one of the club leaders of her school’s Interact Volunteering Club. During her summers, Liu has participated in several business camps such as Kelley Business’s Young Women’s Institute, where she has gained knowledge and experience in her passion. She also runs her own online art business where she creates commissioned art pieces and gains firsthand business experience. Liu plans to continue her love of business, volunteering, and art in college, where she will major in either Marketing or Business Analytics and minor in art.

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