Racist tropes in Ramadan TV satires anger black Arabs

This June 22, 2018 photo, comedian Samir Ghanem wears a wig with braids on an Egyptian show called “Azmi We Ashgan,” which aired on the privately owned Al-Nahar channel, is seen on a laptop (AP Photo)
Updated 23 June 2018
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Racist tropes in Ramadan TV satires anger black Arabs

  • In the Egyptian show called “Azmi We Ashgan,” which aired on the privately owned Al-Nahar channel, comedian Samir Ghanem and his daughter Amy Ghanem appear in blackface, wearing wigs with Rastafarian-looking braids
  • In another sketch aired on state-run Kuwait TV, an ensemble of Kuwaiti actors appear in blackface, wearing traditional Sudanese turbans and jalabeyas, the long garment worn by men in Upper Egypt and Sudan

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: In an attempt to capitalize on what’s become a ratings bonanza for Arabic satellite channels during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, two comedies struck the wrong chord with audiences when their lead actors appeared in blackface, a form of makeup that darkens the skin to represent a caricature of a black person.
Criticism was swift on social media, but failed to trigger a deeper discussion on racism in the Middle East.
The shows — one produced in Egypt and the other in Kuwait — also poked fun at Sudanese culture, making a mockery of the Sudanese Arabic dialect and portraying darker skinned people from Sudan as either poor or lazy.
In the Egyptian show called “Azmi We Ashgan,” which aired on the privately owned Al-Nahar channel, comedian Samir Ghanem and his daughter Amy Ghanem appear in blackface, wearing wigs with Rastafarian-looking braids.
Amy’s character is a half-Sudanese, half-Malawian housemaid who works for a rich, older Egyptian man who makes unwanted sexual advances toward her. Her father onscreen, played by her real-life father, arrives at the house in hopes he too can live there.
Her boss responds in anger, saying: “Did I get this house for fun or did I buy it to set free some slaves?“
In another sketch aired on state-run Kuwait TV, an ensemble of Kuwaiti actors appear in blackface, wearing traditional Sudanese turbans and jalabeyas, the long garment worn by men in Upper Egypt and Sudan.
In the show, called “Block Ghashmara,” Kuwaiti actor Dawood Hussein’s character lounges around on a daybed and constantly falls asleep. He repeatedly says “ayy” in a horse-like pitch, exaggerating the Sudanese dialect.
The backlash from Sudanese viewers was swift, prompting Hussein to issue an apology for what he said was a “misunderstanding with our brothers, loved ones and family in Sudan.”
“I have the bravery to apologize if this offended people and I don’t want anyone offended by me,” he said. In a nod to Sudan’s often overlooked contribution to Arab Gulf countries, he also noted that he was proud to have been taught by Sudanese teachers in Kuwaiti schools.
Khalid Albaih, a Sudanese political cartoonist living in Denmark who spoke out online against the skits, said it surprised him that so many actors, writers and producers on both shows didn’t stop to question the offensive nature of the scenes before they aired.
“They need to figure out a better way to represent black people,” he told the AP. “It is laziness and a lack of talent that gets an actor to do that.”
When a viewer similarly criticized the Egyptian show “Azmi We Ashgan” on Twitter for relying on old racist tropes for laughs, writer Ahmed Mohy responded that the show did not mean to insult anyone, but he also defended the show’s take on humor.
“There’s no difference between someone who is black or white. It’s normal to also show a white person as a janitor or waiter, just as we can show a black person working in any job,” he wrote on Twitter.
Despite criticism on social media, the exchanges failed to produce a bigger society-wide discussion, analyst Hana Al-Kharmi wrote in an opinion piece for Al-Jazeera.
“There is almost no public debate about it within the wider Arab society. On the contrary, there is a popular outright denial that racist attitudes against black people exist,” she wrote.
After seeing the Kuwaiti show online, Sara Elhassan, a 33-year-old Sudanese-American writer based in Phoenix uploaded videos on Instagram criticizing the show and its depiction of Sudanese people.
“Everybody knows there is a discrimination issue in the Middle East when it comes to black people or darker skinned people,” she told The Associated Press in a phone interview, “but people are still in denial a little bit about it.”
“We like to say: ‘Oh we are all Muslim. We can’t be racist,’” she added.
Beginning around the 1940s, Egyptian movies were not too unlike Hollywood films in that black actors were often cast as servants and doormen. Darker-skinned women were often cast as housemaids and prostitutes.
Since then, attitudes in the US have shifted. As the Ramadan shows were airing, a major television network in the US was quick to cancel the popular reboot of “Rosanne” after its star, Roseanne Barr, posted a racist tweet that referred to a former adviser to Barack Obama as a product of the Muslim Brotherhood and “Planet of the Apes.”
ABC announced Thursday it will air a spinoff of the show without its star this fall, rebranding it as “The Conners.”
Film critic and curator Joseph Fahim said part of the problem in tackling racism in Arab media is that there’s a general lack of understanding among audiences in the region as to why these skits are offensive.
“There isn’t a culture of sensitivity,” Fahim said. “It’s not there. It’s not as if this has been thought through. It wasn’t even thought out. This is how it’s been done over decades, and people think that it’s OK.”


Comcast outbids Fox with $40 billion offer for Sky in auction

Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp and co-chairman of 21st Century Fox, arrives at the Sun Valley Resort of the annual Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference, July 10, 2018 in Sun Valley, Idaho. (AFP)
Updated 23 September 2018
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Comcast outbids Fox with $40 billion offer for Sky in auction

  • Disney agreed a separate $71 billion deal to buy most of Fox’s film and TV assets, including its existing 39 percent stake in Sky, in June and would have taken full ownership after a successful Fox takeover

LONDON: Comcast beat Rupert Murdoch’s Twenty-First Century Fox in the battle for Sky on Saturday after offering 30.6 billion pounds ($40 billion) in a dramatic auction to decide the fate of the pay-television group.
The US cable giant bid 17.28 pounds a share for control of London-listed Sky, bettering a 15.67 pounds-a-share offer by Fox, Britain’s Takeover Panel said.
Buying Sky will make Philadephia-based Comcast, which owns the NBC network and Universal Pictures, the world’s largest pay-TV operator with around 52 million customers.
Chairman and chief executive Brian Roberts has had his eye on Sky as a way to help counter declines in subscribers for traditional cable TV in its core US market as viewers switch to video-on-demand services like Netflix and Amazon .
“This is a great day for Comcast,” he said. “This acquisition will allow us to quickly, efficiently and meaningfully increase our customer base and expand internationally.”
Comcast’s knock-out offer thwarted Murdoch’s long-held ambition to win control of Sky, and is also a setback for US entertainment giant Walt Disney which would have likely been its ultimate owner.
Disney agreed a separate $71 billion deal to buy most of Fox’s film and TV assets, including its existing 39 percent stake in Sky, in June and would have taken full ownership after a successful Fox takeover.
Comcast’s final offer was significantly higher than its bid going into the auction of 14.75 pounds, and compares with Sky’s closing price of 15.85 pounds on Friday.
Comcast believed it needed to deliver a knock-out blow given that Fox’s existing stake in Sky gave it a chance of victory if it was a close second to Comcast, two sources said.
Comcast’s final offer — more than double Sky’s share price before Fox made its approach in December 2016 — quickly won the backing of Sky’s independent directors on Saturday.
“We are recommending it as it represents materially superior value,” said Martin Gilbert, chairman of Sky’s independent committee. “We are focused on drawing this process to a successful and swift close and therefore urge shareholders to accept the recommended Comcast offer.”
Fox will now concede defeat, a source told Reuters.
It is reviewing options for its stake, a holding that stems from Murdoch’s role in the creation of the company nearly three decades ago, the source said.
Fox declined to comment.
Comcast, which requires 50 percent plus one share of Sky’s equity to win control, said it was also seeking to buy Sky shares in the market.

HUGE PRICE
One hedge fund manager who holds Sky shares said nobody could complain about the Comcast price.
“The question now is if Fox actually sells out and if not can Comcast get to 50 percent,” he said.
Another hedge-fund manager said it was a “huge” price, and shareholders would accept it.
Sources familiar with the matter said Fox, Disney and Comcast had not been in discussions about the 39 percent stake.
The quick-fire auction marked a dramatic climax to a protracted transatlantic bidding battle waged since February, when Comcast gate-crashed Fox’s takeover of Sky.
It is a blow to 87-year-old Murdoch and the US media and entertainment group that he controls, which had been trying to take full ownership of Sky since December 2016.
Murdoch’s son James, currently chairman of Sky, was instrumental in building the company into the leading European pay TV group, with operations in Britain, Ireland, Germany, Austria and Italy, and more than 23 million customers attracted to its top-flight sport and entertainment content.
Sky’s chief executive Jeremy Darroch said it was the beginning of a new chapter. “Sky has never stood still, and with Comcast our momentum will only increase,” he said. ($1 = 0.7648 pounds)