Afghan-American Foundation (AAF) Statement on United States of Al
“Change comes through deliberate and thoughtful engagement around projects like this — which will almost certainly be imperfect but just as assuredly will present opportunities to advance our community and our narrative.”
(Washington D.C. 3/24/21) The Afghan-American Foundation (AAF) was recently invited to join a community screening and discussion of the forthcoming CBS sitcom United States of Al. The community screening, which had been planned for some time, followed several days of online discussion among community members sparked by the release of the show’s trailer. Like many in our community, AAF was interested to understand the premise of the show and the manner in which Afghans and Afghan-Americans would be portrayed.
One of AAF’s purposes is to center Afghan-American voices in the discussions about Afghanistan and issues of concern to Afghan-Americans in the United States. In this regard, we were pleased to see over one hundred individuals present for the screening, representing a diverse swath of the Afghan-American community. In the post-screening conversation, we were encouraged to see Afghan-American and Afghan members of the show’s production staff present alongside the show’s creators and executive producers, and Tiffany Smith-Anoa'i, CBS Entertainment’s Executive Vice President for Entertainment Diversity, Inclusion & Communications. It was also very valuable to have the participation of Janis Shinwari, co-founder of No One Left Behind — an advocacy organization focused on ensuring that the U.S. keeps its commitments to interpreters in Afghanistan and Iraq. The group’s discussion brought to the fore several issues that AAF expects will be the subject of robust and constructive discourse after the show premieres.
It is commendable and unprecedented to have such an impressive and accomplished group of Afghan-Americans in the writers’ room and on set for a major sitcom. The opportunity to expand our narrative is certainly appreciated and we encourage other studios to follow suit. However, inclusion and diversity should not lead to complacency around the sensitivity required to thoughtfully represent the experience of Afghans who have endured four decades of war and those who have come to the United States as a result of the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, many under dire circumstances. The risks that SIV program participants in particular faced in Afghanistan as a result of the nature of their jobs and the challenges they now face in the U.S. are critical to explore and unpack.
We also believe the show has the potential to introduce a broad segment of the American population to the trauma and human costs of conflict, war and displacement. This awareness will also foster a greater understanding toward the lingering effects that such conflicts have had on the growing population of veterans in the US. After meeting the creative talent behind the sitcom, we are confident that they have the collective ability to weave this important nuance into the show. Not doing so, we believe, would be a tremendous missed opportunity.
The screening and conversation afterward highlighted how critical it is for Afghans and members of the Afghan diaspora to have their voices heard in discussions of our history, culture and identity. These voices need to be heard and elevated by creatives as well as by those who may seek to speak over us on our behalf.
Our community is as diverse as it is passionate. We are encouraged by the emerging platforms for and the amplification of our perspectives. Change comes through deliberate and thoughtful engagement around projects like this — which will almost certainly be imperfect but just as assuredly will present opportunities to advance our community and our narrative.
AAF will continue to work toward achieving a balanced and accurate perception of Afghanistan and Afghan-Americans.We expect that as the show develops, its creators, writers and producers will continue to stay engaged with the broader Afghan-American community and will work toward showcasing the diversity and breadth of our community.