Graffiti artists sneak Arabic messages accusing ‘Homeland’ of racism into episode


Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison on “Homeland.”

(Stephan Rabold / Showtime)

Three street artists hired to provide apolitical background graffiti for the set of a refugee camp on Showtime’s “Homeland” subverted expectations and instead painted messages in Arabic criticizing the series, resulting in Sunday’s episode of the Emmy-award winning series unintentionally including graffiti that declared “‘Homeland’ is racist.”

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In a statement released Wednesday, artists Heba Amin, Stone and Caram Kapp said of the opportunity, “Given the series’ reputation we were not easily convinced, until we considered what a moment of intervention could relay about our own and many others’ political discontent with the series. It was our moment to make our point by subverting the message using the show itself.”

The artists said it was lack of oversight and the use of Arabic script as set dressing that allowed their messages to make it on air without being detected, saying, “The content of what was written on the walls, however, was of no concern. In their eyes, Arabic script is merely a supplementary visual that completes the horror-fantasy of the Middle East, a poster image dehumanizing an entire region to human-less figures in black burkas and moreover, this season, to refugees.”

In a statement released Thursday, “Homeland” co-creator and show runner Alex Gansa said of the controversy, “We wish we’d caught these images before they made it to air. However, as ‘Homeland’ always strives to be subversive in its own right and a stimulus for conversation, we can’t help but admire this act of artistic sabotage.”

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This is far from “Homeland’s” first brush with controversy on the world stage.

After a particularly unflattering portrayal of Beirut in 2012, Lebanese Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud was so upset about the matter that he informed The Associated Press that he was considering a lawsuit, saying, “The information minister is studying media laws to see what can be done.”

The show’s fourth season drew criticism from Nadeem Hotiana, press attache for Pakistan’s embassy in Washington, D.C., who released a statement in January saying, “Insinuations that an intelligence agency of Pakistan is complicit in protecting the terrorists at the expense of innocent Pakistani civilians is not only absurd but also an insult to the ultimate sacrifices of the thousands of Pakistani security personnel in the war against terrorism.”

The fourth season finale additionally courted controversy for comparing former Israel Prime Minister Menachem Begin to a fictional Taliban leader, a reference to Begin’s time spent in the 1940s leading an underground Zionist group called Irgun. The group committed a bombing in 1946 at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, a strike against British administrative and military leaders during Israel’s struggle for independence, and an event that Begin was not present for.

The final controversy is particularly poignant given “Homeland’s” origin as an adaptation of an Israeli series titled “Prisoners of War,” created by Gideon Raff.

But the show draws ire on smaller scale, domestic issues as well.

“Homeland’s” protagonist Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) has bipolar disorder, which she often treats inconsistently, often leading to erratic behavior. The show’s depiction of mental illness has been met with mixed reviews. In particular, a scene in the show’s Season 4 premiere horrified viewers as Mathison contemplated letting the baby she had yet to bond with drown in the bath.

“Homeland” is currently in its fifth season and will next air Sunday night at 9 p.m. on Showtime.

Follow me on Twitter at @midwestspitfire.

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