Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Hijab, Muslimah styling and Television

I have recently come across the blog OMGSIANZ and I'm particularly drawn to the pseudo television/film reviews that the writer posts. Although many of the posts tend to border on self-absorbed musings and irrelevance, I have to admit that the tongue-in-cheek posts are somewhat spot-on. Coming from the industry myself, I believe Singapore television needs such independent commentaries to keep our television in check. They keep us creatives on our toes.

(I can't speak for other directors' work process, but I listen to constructive inputs from my key creatives during production. After all, the creative process is a collaborative one. I need input from my scriptwriters, director of photography and casts, et al, to produce great, grounded works.)

In the spirit of the fasting month of Ramadan, Singapore's only Malay-language television station telecasts a number of Ramadan-themed programmes to get it's audience into the festive/religious spirit. One of the programmes is a family drama series, Pinggiran Ramadan "On the fringes of Ramadan" season 2. A review of one of the episodes was posted by OMGSIANZ.

It was typically hilarious. Yet some points were relevant, especially the commentaries on the hijab worn by the women cast in the programme. Here are some screenshots of the offending commentaries off the original blog. Click on the pictures to view the text.

I'm not going to elaborate the backlash the writer received for this particular post. I believe you can speculate easily the sort of reactions when such posts were perceived as attacks on personal fashion tastes, style and... blasphemy (!!), on the religion itself.

I want to categorically state that I emphatise with the respective female cast members that the posts oh-so "ridiculed". I've watched cast members on-set and I know how it feels like to be under the mercy of the fashion/wardrobe stylist. However I would have pointed to the respective stylist my concerns - upfront. Nevertheless, the blog's writer has highlighted a couple of things. Also how I feel about hijab-wearing television characters.

I'm no fashionista but when it comes to television, I think all the good stylist/wardrobe person on set should be aware that unless it's Cinderella at the ball, Willy Wonka or the motley Pirates of the Caribbean, the character's wardrobe should not distract from the actor him/herself. As a rule of thumb, I would have personally informed the stylist of my dramas that primary colours should not overwhelm the overall look of the respective characters. Any form of jewellery or glitters should not cloud the face. As an extension to this, the hijab should be understated in form and colour. I have experienced many situations where an actress, who originally wears the hijab off-camera, gets carried away by accessorising her hijab. (On many occasions the cast would have brought their own wardrobe to the set and it gets tricky. Regardless, the stylist/set wardrobe person/director/producer should have the final call to the "look".)

I also notice how some stylists would never make a distinction between "home clothes" and clothes worn outside the house. For example, a character who's about to go to bed - would an elaborate headgear be necessary? In fact for the woman at home, wouldn't the hijab be unnecessary when she is with her muhrim/mahram (immediate/close family members)?

Television has the ability to magnify. Thus, what might have looked good on-set overwhelms the respective cast on-screen. Thus, diminishing the actor's performance.

Perhaps, the very fact that the writer of OMGSIANZ blatantly pointed out many times on the hijabs was because the hijabs had indeed been too overwhelming onscreen that the performance of the cast took a backseat. 

I've read that the main purpose of the hijab is to protect the modesty of the woman, to draw unnecessary attention away from the wearer. I have nothing against the hijab, the veil or women with one of these. The women in my family wear one too. However let this occasion be food for thought to stylists/wardrobe persons, with all due respect. 

I would like to reiterate that Singapore (Malay) television needs independent commentaries like OMGSIANZ's to awaken the slumber - to keep us producers, writers, cast members, directors and stylists in check. The industry is too small that everyone tries to be nice to one another but being nice at times aggravates matter. I understand that the writer of the blog has since apologised and subsequently amended the original post.

We need to focus on the Good than trying to keep one another smug with false contentment. 

Actors enrich the screen, writers write. Producers ensure programmes get telecast. Directors execute concepts into artistically-compelling, yet enriching entertainment.

That's what we basically do. And there are the critics - their critiques sometimes entertain.

We need sharp-witted critiques to shake us from complacency. Let's pretend we are all comics and let's entertain one another.

After all, television is not about you and I. Television is about the audience. We need successful television.