Sabrin Zahid, 2020
This summer, Netflix released a new drama, “Jinn”. Being the first Netflix original series in Arabic, I was excited to watch it to see how the characters and the Jinn would be portrayed.The series follows a group of teenagers on a school trip to Petra, a town known to have been inhabited by Jinn, which are supernatural beings with major ties to Islamic lore. After one of the students mysteriously dies during the trip, Mira accidentally summons a Jinn who warns her about evil coming their way, making it her job to save everyone by stopping the evil Jinn from releasing more evil into their world. While the series is dramatic and thrilling, diving into romantic relationships between the characters and friendship dramas, it evokes different responses from non-Middle Eastern and Middle Eastern viewers.
From a Middle Eastern viewer’s perspective, the show does not score well in terms of representation. There is no hijabi lead character, and there isn’t a single character who has a religious identity, a confusing aspect since the show is centered around these supernatural beings who are prominent in Islamic texts like the Quran. The characters and storyline of the show are all very westernized, showing them drinking and smoking among other things that are normalized in American culture specifically but not as much in Middle Eastern culture. To a non-Middle Eastern viewer, the show is just like another American supernatural drama like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Twilight, but with brown people.
The show has caused a lot of public controversy in Jordan due to the depiction of teenage sexuality, use of drugs and alcohol, and lack of morality that the viewers there are not used to. Some people wanted the show removed from Netflix, but the president of Jordan didn’t follow through with that out of respect for freedom of speech. It’s interesting that it’s created so much discussion, because despite lacking in appropriate representation, it’s gotten people to talk about sexuality among teenagers and other issues that are generally stigmatized topics in many Middle Eastern countries.