Comedy Series ‘Halal in the Family’ Uses Humor to Tackle Anti-Muslim Sentiment

Recognize Aasif Mandvi? You should. Aside from a number of film and television show appearances, this Indian American actor and comedian is a regular correspondent on The Daily Show and even has a published book, “No Land’s Man.”

But if all goes well, you’ll soon know Mandvi as the man who co-created and stars in a new web series which aims to use humor as a way to tackle Anti-Muslim sentiment. Woah. Let’s rewind a bit.

The idea for Halal in the Family (yes, that is inspired by the famous 1970’s sitcom All in the Family) actually started with Katie Couric. According to Mandvi, Couric “commented that Muslims needed their own version of The Cosby Show in order to break down stereotypes about Muslims.” In response, The Daily Show created a parody sketch focused on a Muslim Cosby family.

Fast forward a few years and the one-episode parody has expanded into a four-episode web series that packs quite a punch in each six-minute episode. Mandvi used Indiegogo to explain the reason behind this web series:

Unfavorable views of Islam and its followers are at an all time high. Did you know that only 27% of Americans have positive views of Muslims? We’re barely more popular than Congress! Too often the media and politicians only make things worse, feeding increased prejudice, discriminatory policies, and hate-filled rhetoric targeting American Muslims.

Fortunately, many amazing organizations and individuals are courageously combating anti-Muslim hate. But it’s not enough. It’s time to get serious…ly funny.

For the past year I’ve been developing a new web-series to challenge stereotypes and misinformation about Muslims and communities associated with Muslims. It’s called Halal in the Family, and it’s a sitcom parody about an all-American Muslim family. It’s also a tool to support existing campaigns to combat anti-Muslim bias.

 

Mandvi and his writing partner, Miles Kahn, met with a number of Muslim organizations and advocacy groups to decide what issues would be worked into the first episodes. As a result, the series is able to hit on topics that truly resonate with the Muslim community. For instance, the teenage daughter faces cyber-bullying when her picture is photoshopped wearing a turban. Her father, played by Mandvi, humorously corrects this. “If you’re going to stereotype us at least get it right. We don’t wear turbans,” he informs the cyber-bully.

Some have reacted with confusion. How can prejudice completely disappear with comedy? Well, Mandvi would be the first to agree with the naysayers. He admits that trying to completely wipe out anti-Muslim sentiment with one show would be a “fool’s errand.” Instead, he focuses on the importance of shining light on these issues and getting people talking.

Halal in the Family will expose a broad audience to some of the realities of being Muslim in America,” He explains on the Indiegogo page. “By using satire we will encourage people to reconsider their assumptions about Muslims, while providing a balm to those experiencing anti-Muslim bias. I also hope those Uncles and Aunties out there will crack a smile!”

 


Feature Photo courtesy of www.nbcnews.com

National Film Society’s Comedy Web Series, Awesome Asian Bad Guys

Story by Ada Tseng. Photos by Craig Stubing, unwrittenfilms.com    

In 2011, Patrick Mendoza Epino and Stephen Dypiangco started a YouTube channel and new media studio called National Film Society. Part of the joke was that their name sounded very official and old-school Hollywood, but in reality, the playful, self-mocking and slightly absurd videos, from “Film School or No Film School?” to “Manny Pacquiao vs. Batman,” were made by two Filipino American filmmakers who riffed on everything. Eight months after they started, they caught the attention of PBS Digital Studios, which added National Film Society to their lineup. Since then, they’ve given out National Film Society “awards” (aka slightly inappropriate Barrel Man statuettes) to their confused actor friends, filmed commentary about the popular PBS series Downton Abbey, and interviewed subjects from documentarian Morgan Spurlock to Cookie Monster.

One of their most memorable videos was titled “Awesome Asian Bad Guys,” where they paid tribute to the badass Asian fighters in the action films they loved watching in the ’80s and ’90s. Unfortunately, in typical white male-dominated Hollywood form, these impressively skilled Asian guys always ended up dying very quickly at the hands of a Bruce Willis, an Arnold Schwarzenegger or a Mel Gibson. Dypiangco’s favorite bad guy was George Cheung (Rush Hour, Rambo 2); Epino’s favorite was Al Leong, who was killed off so many times that he’s inspired an “Al Leong Death Reel” compilation on YouTube where he violently perishes in almost 20 different movies. At the end of this National Film Society video, they mention that it’d be awesome to gather all these Asian bad guys together one day and create a super team, kind of like “the Asian Expendables.”

They had no idea they’d actually do it one day. “We just thought, conceptually, it’d be funny,” says Epino. “We weren’t like, ‘Let’s make it!’”
“It just seemed like it’d be ridiculous and fun,” says Dypiangco. “And it seemed like it’d be something that’d work really well on the web.”
Once they got some actors on board — including Tamlyn Tomita (beloved for her role on Karate Kid 2), Yuji Okumoto (who played the Karate Kid’s nemesis in the same film), comedic actor Aaron Takahashi (onboard to play the villain), and even Al Leong himself — Epino and Dypiangco launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to make their Awesome Asian Bad Guys web series.
A year and a half later, Awesome Asian Bad Guys is scheduled to premiere in San Francisco at the 2014 CAAMFest in March. There, it will play as a short feature, but online, it will be separated into approximately 10-minute webisodes. Though there were some “bad guys” in their dream cast that they weren’t able to lock down — including Bolo Yeung (Bloodsport, Double Impact) and James Hong (who turned them down four times) — Epino and Dypiangco’s team of Asian American actors were game to play fictional versions of themselves in the action comedy. The story begins with Tomita, who alerts the National Film Society about the dangers of Takahashi — who people might recognize as the funny guy with glasses in the Amp’d Mobile and State Farm commercials, but, in his personal life, is the leader of a gang with a diabolical plan to take down his competition in the entertainment industry.
“See, Tamlyn had a twin sister named Pamlyn whom Aaron killed,” explains Epino, with a straight face. “So she comes to us to help her get revenge.” He laughs. “Don’t ask why she comes to us. She just does.”
“She asks us to help recruit this team [of Awesome Asian Bad Guys] to take down Aaron,” says Dypiangco. Other co-stars include Dante Basco (Rufio in Hook, Ben in The Debut), who plays Takahashi’s right-hand man, and Randall Park (Larry Crowne, The Five-Year Engagement, Veep), who is desperate to join the team of Awesome Asian Bad Guys to show that he can do more than just play the goofy Asian sidekick. Epino and Dypiangco even got Nuo “Sunny” Sun, who has worked on films such as The Avengers, The Expendables and The Last Airbender, to be their stunt coordinator.
“[Patrick and I] are on the Awesome Asian Bad Guys team, so we get to do some action, but we do it as [versions of] ourselves,” says Dypiangco. “So we’re not super skilled.”
“We’re poorly skilled,” says Epino. “But we were available to do the fight training more often than any of the rest of the actors, whose schedules we’d have to work around because they would sometimes book other gigs at the last minute.”
While they did some research on other web series to get a sense of the online medium, the story mostly references The Expendables, the film series starring Sylvester Stallone and other action hero actors, including Jet Li. Yet while they were shooting, the cast and crew kept telling them it felt like they were making a Naked Gun movie.

“That wasn’t necessarily conscious,” says Dypiangco, about being inspired by the over-the-top crime comedy film franchise from 1988 to 1994 starring Leslie Nielson, “but I think people thought that because [Awesome Asian Bad Guys] is just super silly.” He laughs. “But I actually watched Naked Gun again recently, and it’s pretty good!”

 

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This story was originally published in our Spring 2014 issue. Get your copy here