You hear a lot about media representation, but not a lot about what that actually means. Is the stereotypically diverse college recruitment pamphlet representation? What about having one person of color on an otherwise all white show?
The truth is that simply putting an underrepresented group onscreen is not enough; we need to pay attention to how that group is being represented. Media tends to simplify and over-exaggerate stories and perspectives, but proper representation aims to broaden the popular narrative.
When podcast producer and host Misha Euceph immigrated from Pakistan in 2003, she butted heads with media stereotypes head on. In an interview, she told me that after moving to Los Angeles, she was “so surprised that people expected me to wear a headscarf, to not drink, and to hold conservative social views.” In 2017, Misha channeled her experiences as an immigrant into her first podcast, appropriately titled Beginner.
But now that Misha’s lived in the U.S. for over a decade, she’s no longer surprised. “I have seen Muslims portrayed as one-dimensional, extremely religious and existing in relation only to Islamophobia and terrorism.“ What she hasn’t is any any “nuance or joy or even stories that prioritize humanity over caricaturing.”
So this year, Misha decided to take matters into her own hands, with her new podcast Tell Them, I Am. Every day this last Ramadan, Misha and KPCC partnered with NPR story lab to interview famous muslims about “the small moments that define who we are and who we are not.” While all of her guests are muslim, their stories are lovely vignettes of moments that we can all relate to.
Episode one features Tan France – from Netflix’s makeover show Queer Eye – discussing his love affair with the phrase “I told you so.” On the 3rd episode, Najma Sharif talks about her past life as a middle school player, sneaking out to go on dates by the lake. The 5th episode features author Reza Aslan, recounting the game of chess that first interested him in politics.
These small, but meaningful stories are designed to counter muslim stereotypes. “The biggest misconception about Muslims in popular culture—and frankly about many minority groups—is that we all share a few traits or that we are limited to those traits.” While some muslims have beards, wear hijabs, or are arab, Misha wants to remind audiences that “those are not the most defining aspects of who they are. Our most noticeable traits are often not our defining ones.”
Because of her experience working on other podcasts, Misha knows that every show requires its own tone. Her previous podcast The Big One was “a disaster movie in podcast form”, but Misha describes Tell Them I Am as, “candy for your ears, or a warm hug in podcast form.” To accomplish the podcast’s sweetness, Misha says, “we were lucky to have David Linard compose heart-string pulling, original music,” which elevates her guest’s personal stories into universal parables.
The show’s duality as being both uniquely muslim and universal has been difficult for Misha to describe. “A lot of people want to say that the show is about ‘the Muslim experience’ or ‘Muslim identity.’ Correcting that without pushing people away has taken thoughtfulness and empathy and a clear articulation of the concept.” Tell Them, I Am features people who are Muslim, but is really about small defining moments, “the way that Pod Save America or This American Life feature a lot of White people but they are shows about politics or narrative storytelling, not about “the White experience.”
Looking towards the future of her show, Misha is most excited about pushing boundaries. “Having conversations about alcohol, dating, being LGBTQ, family dynamics, unconventional career choices is not common in the Muslim that community that I grew up a part of, so I’m nervous and excited to see what these episodes spark.” Ultimately, Misha is excited for listeners to fall in love with her guests. “They are tender, beautiful souls who shared their hearts with my team and with our listeners. I can’t wait for the world to meet them and get to know them with open hearts.”
So if you’re looking for a Ramadan treat or just a few relatable personal stories, give Tell Them, I Am a try and let us know what you think by rating the show on Podchaser.
Chasing Pods is a Podchaser blog series dedicated to letting our readers know about podcasts they may not have heard of or provide a sneak peek into the making of their favorite podcast. We talk to podcast creators about their journey into podcasting, the creation of their shows, the ups and downs of the work, and what they’re looking forward to for their podcast
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