'Normalizing who we are': TikTokers are showing Hollywood how to tell Muslim stories

After decades of harmful presentations of Muslims dominated the entertainment industry, TikTok is changing the narrative. Entertainment reporter, Anhar Karim, says TikTok has the authentic representations of Muslims that were missing from his own life.

Muslim content creators turn to TikTok to normalize their experiences and tell their own stories.

Anhar Karim made a 30-day TikTok series talking about his experiences doing Ramadan under quarantine. (Anhar Karim )

Hollywood has perpetuated harmful representations of Muslims for decades. But Anhar Karim is hopeful that major changes are happening — and TikTok is showing the way. 

Karim, an entertainment reporter for Forbes magazine, grew up with a love for the big screen. But as a Muslim American, he rarely saw himself in the protagonists. 

I think what we as Muslims sort of want is, you know, just normal mundane representation- Anhar Karim

"Muslims are very, very heavily overrepresented on TV and movies. It's just that when they do show up, they're usually only in the context of terrorism, only as these violent, you know, characters — monsters, really," he said. 

"I think what we as Muslims sort of want is, you know, just normal mundane representation, people going to work, people watching TV, people having normal everyday worries and concerns. And that's the lens of the Muslim experience that is almost nonexistent for most of our big screen productions."

Karim said he does believe Hollywood is moving in the right direction — but the progress is slow. While poor representations may still be prevalent on the big screen, accurate representations have found their way on to many smaller screens, thanks to a video-sharing app called TikTok. 

"I made a 30-day TikTok series  … talking about my experiences doing Ramadan under quarantine. And a lot of the comments were really these amazing questions of like, 'Oh, I didn't know Muslims do this. Oh, can you explain this? Oh, that's amazing. Wow, I can't believe you're fasting for 30 days!' People just genuinely curious and learning. And I think that's just, it was just really touching to see how they were receiving it."

WATCH: Anhar Karim shared how he celebrated Eid Day on TikTok

To learn more about how Muslim content creators are impacted by TikTok, Karim interviewed a few for Forbes. One of the things that stood out from those conversations was how TikTok has normalized Muslims going about their daily lives. 

"What TikTok is doing now is that … they can be scrolling through their "For You" page, seeing all these people do random jokes, doing random skits, and then they scroll one video further, and suddenly they see a girl their age, wearing a hijab, also doing a skit. It's just such a powerful way of normalizing who we are," he said. 

"It just gives me hope for my identity and, you know, go back to being what Muslims are, which we're believers in this faith system and we're boring people scrolling through TikTok."

Written by McKenna Hadley-Burke.

Produced by Kim Kaschor.


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