Everyone seems to agree on one thing about "Alice In Arabia," a show about an Arab-American girl who goes to live with her grandparents in Saudi Arabia: A good television show with an Arab-American girl at the center would be an important thing. "How many shows are there with Arab-American girls at the center?" mused novelist Saladin Ahmed, who writes fantasy novels that draw on Islam as an inspiration. And "Alice In Arabia" creator Brooke Eikmeier, a veteran of both the U.S. Army and the television industry, wrote in a piece in the Hollywood Reporter that her goal was a show with a majority-Muslim cast, with a mixed-race main character whose character arc would be from unfamiliarity with Saudi culture to great love for her adopted country.
But the ABC Family project, which was swiftly cancelled shortly after it was announced, became something else entirely. As drafts of the show circulated, "Alice In Arabia" became a proxy for a much larger question. The fight to diversify television characters often focuses on two possible solutions: challenging white writers and male writers to look outside their own perspectives, and securing more jobs for women and people of color. The fight over "Alice In Arabia" is a fascinating look at the ways in which those goals can come into conflict, especially when white writers think they have done their due diligence, but audiences of color see something every different.