The British TV Channel 4 aired a document called “My Week as a Muslim” on October 23rd. The show created significant backlash because a White, British Islamophobic woman dressed up as a Pakistani, Muslim woman. Katie Freeman not only wore Muslim clothes but also wore dark make-up and prosthetic nose and teeth. Opponents of the documentary call this a racist use of brown-face.
The producer, Fazia Khan, had previously created “Extremely British Muslims” on Channel 4. She says her goal with this new documentary “was to educate, not offend.” She intended to avoid “preaching to the converted” by including Freeman, who was hostile towards Muslims like many White Britons. Khan writes, “We hoped that people who shared some of Katie’s views would go on the journey with her. I think the disguise element was an absolutely crucial part of this.”
Khan placed Freeman in a Muslim household. Khan discussed the idea with local Muslim organizations, such as the British Muslim Heritage Centre, and the family before starting the project.
As a result of the disguise, Khan argues, Freeman experienced an “insider” feeling that otherwise who not have been possible in other situations.
Others disagree that this was the correct way to portray Muslims and Islamophobia. Radhika Sanghani says that the idea of challenging racism is worthwhile but this documentary is “perpetuating old cliches and focusing on physical appearance.” She questions why the show follows a non-Muslim woman rather than Muslim women who experience racism regularly.
Freeman changes her views by the end of the segment. Still, Sanghani is concerned that the Freeman’s “week as a Muslim doesn’t just depict the reality of life behind a hijab – it implies that all Asian women look a certain way, and sends out the damaging message that brownface, with all its historical and racist connotations, is acceptable.”