Bodyguard (BBC)

 

I get it, it’s hard to resist the furrowed brow of principal protection officer (or bodyguard to you and I) of David Budd (Richard Madden). He’s quiet, he’s got a moral code and he’s Scottish.

And when he comes across a suicide bombing plot on a train on its way to London, he becomes a hero, talking down a terrified-looking Nadia Ali (Anjli Mohindra) and foiling the bomb plot that her husband put her up to.

 

Already, there isn’t a sigh heavy enough.

 

But wait, series creator Jed Mercurio told us, “You need to watch the whole drama for a comprehensive idea of… who is responsible for the terror event,” he said, as the finger was pointed at a government conspiracy. Perhaps the bearded brownies were just puppets for governmental mastermind?

 

Alas, no. At the last minute, the bomb-maker and architect of a series of attacks was revealed to be none other than the supposedly meek Nadia Ali.

 

"You all saw me as a poor, oppressed Muslim woman,”she told us. “I am an engineer. I am a jihadi.”

 

That somehow this was supposed to be applauded as subversive reveals a lot about what the creators really think of Muslim women. Imagine! A Muslim female engineer, how wonderfully unpredictable and inconceivable!

 

And how magnanimous of them to subvert the stereotype of the meek Muslim woman, with the far more damaging stereotype of the terrorist Muslim woman.

 

It’s hard to decide which is the graver offence, the lazy leaning on tired stereotypes of Muslims, or the smugness with which it was done.

 

Because this twist was not clever, was not unpredictable, and was not even subversive; it only perpetuated the very stereotypes it claimed to undermine. That any Muslim woman, even the one who appears to be scared and simple could be the evil terrorist mastermind in your midst.

 

There is a woeful lack of Muslims on mainstream television, and a propensity to resort to them only to create violence, fear and terror, never to humanise, or to identify with.

 

And then there’s the problematic white saviour figure in David Budd. What a missed opportunity to offer commentary and the subversion of this tired archetype, because all of the raw ingredients were there, but the creators lacked the self-awareness to put them together. No wonder the result was half-baked.

 

Mercurio defended Nadia’s role by saying, “unfortunately, the reality of our situation is that the principal terror threats in the UK do originate from Islamist sympathisers.”

 

His excuses scrape the barrel. Most terrorists in the UK do not look like Nadia. And a huge proportion of Muslims on television are terrorists, so let us not pretend that this was a new and necessary narrative; it spewed the same archetypes and plot of every other BaD MUsLiM show.

 

This defence also reveals a lot about what Mercurio thinks a terrorist looks like. And it is one-dimensional representations like this with create and sustain Islamophobic violence against Muslim women.

 

There is something incredibly crude about terrorism for titillation’s sake. In Bodyguard, the Muslim woman is an evil plot device, designed to torment, but never humanised. We do not get the chance to understand her; what little backstory she has is shoehorned in and she is the forgotten sideshow in a series where she is supposed to be the evil antagonist.

 

I doubt Mercurio cares much that Muslims disliked his typecasting of Muslims. I doubt he cares that it is dangerous and dehumanizing to be confronted with only one image of yourself on television. But he should care that Nadia Ali was boring, predictable and not the radical story worthy of smugness.

 

 

 

 

 

2/5

Bodyguard receives 2 bloodied swords for its false complexity and for its presentation of Muslims as inherently violent.