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Elite Isn’t as Groundbreaking for Muslim Women As You Think—Here’s Why

I remember how excited I was when I first heard about Elite. I’d discovered Spanish shows on Netflix that summer, and I sped through La Casa de Papel and Las Chicas del Cable, eager for more. I immediately added Elite to my to-watch list when I found out one of my favorite actors, Jaime Lorente, was starring in it. However, the second I found out it was going to feature a Muslim protagonist, I knew I had to watch it right away. I’d never seen a Muslim character in any TV show, let alone a main character, so it was safe to say my anticipation for Elite was high.

The day it came out, I invited one of my best friends to my house, and we spent the entire day in front of my TV, binging the season. She was Muslim as well, not to mention a big fan of Spanish shows, and she was just excited as me to see what Elite had to offer. Eight episodes later, the consensus was clear: we loved the show. We screamed about it on social media and told all our friends to watch it, highlighting the Muslim main character, Nadia. Nadia wore a headscarf―a hijab―but that didn’t stop her from being a strong character. There was an emerging romance between her and Guzman, a white character, but he respected her completely. She was originally Palestinian, but nothing about it was politicized. 


Nadia Shanaa ??? ❤ @minaelhammani #elite #elitenetflix #minaelhammani #nadiashanaa

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Sure, there were some iffy comments thrown around here and there, but we brushed them away. As minorities, we are constantly settling for representation. We figured why complain when this is probably the most we’ll ever get? Besides, Elite was becoming more and more mainstream by the day. By the end of 2018, it was on multiple year-end lists, and it even had a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I continued to recommend Elite to all my friends, Muslim or not, and we eagerly anticipated season two.

Unfortunately, that anticipation died down almost immediately, once I started watching season two. After one episode, Nadia’s hijab was gone, and she found herself fitting in with the majority white group of students at her high school. It’s important to note that my issue is not with Nadia taking her hijab off. Every woman has a different relationship with her hijab, and it’s up to her whether she wants to wear it or not. What rubbed me the wrong way was how there was no Muslim writer present on the Elite staff, which resulted in Nadia’s character being depicted as full of harmful stereotypes. They associated Nadia’s hijab with repression, and the second she took it off, she was immediately free. There is so much wrong with that, that I ended up quitting the show halfway through the season.

And that’s not all. The most recent season of Elite, which premiered earlier this month, sees Nadia becoming best friends with her racist tormenter, Lu. In season one, Lu constantly referred to Nadia as Taliban Girl and said her religion was barbaric and oppressive. As a Muslim, this made me incredibly uncomfortable, but I pushed it to the side, reminding myself that Lu was supposed to be an antagonist. And yet, as the show went on, I realized that isn’t the writers’ intention at all. Lu is considered to be one of the most popular characters on the show, and if you scroll through social media, there are numerous fan edits celebrating her. By the end of season three, Nadia does too.

What bothers me the most is that the Elite writers never needed to have Nadia wearing a hijab in the first place. They didn’t even need to make her Muslim. Instead, Nadia was their “token Muslim,” their ticket to claiming diversity. I don’t think I’m the only one who believes that I’d rather have no representation at all, than harmful representation. 

I’m not saying that people should stop watching Elite―in fact, many of my friends still do. However, people need to stop hailing it as the long-awaited show for Muslim girls, because for some of us, all it is is offensive.

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Dana is a freshman at Boston University studying International Relations. She is from Dubai, but she recently moved across the world to attend BU. In her free time, she loves reading, rewatching Gilmore Girls, going to concerts, and writing.
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