By Tom Secker, a British-based investigative journalist, author and podcaster. You can follow his work via his Spy Culture site and his podcast ClandesTime.
The sitcom centres on Al, an interpreter from Afghanistan who relocates to Columbus, Ohio and moves in with the family of Riley, a Marine Corps veteran he worked with in Afghanistan.
OMG, Culture Clash!
The low-brow nature of this premise is epitomised by the third episode, when Al becomes unnerved by his female driving instructor wearing shorts, which is forbidden by Al’s religion. While he manages to momentarily overcome his absurd fundamentalism, during a driving lesson he becomes nervous again after stopping near a charity car wash run by women in bikinis.
While some critics praised the show for embracing diversity and cultural representation, other reviewers pointed out that casting Adhir Kalyan – an Indian from South Africa – to play an Afghan, with a thoroughly inauthentic accent and no knowledge of the country or culture, was hardly a victory for diversity advocates.
The show has also been accused of being military propaganda, leading executive producer Mahyad Tousi to tweet out a response denying this, and saying it is “mined from deep research and interviews with dozens of folks who have walked in these shoes.”
What if the show isn’t military propaganda, but rather using these characters and their stories –mined from deep research and interviews with dozens of folks who have walked in these shoes – in order to make nuanced commentary on how war affects people? https://t.co/bOJYCPV45l
Beneath the quagmire of Twitter arguments, a copyright challenge may be brewing. Marine Corps veteran turned screenwriter Dylan Park alleges that the series was cribbed from his own real-life experience of reuniting with a translator he knew from his time in Iraq. Park had previously tweeted about this, and said his story had been shopped around Hollywood and even optioned, but was never made. Then, after Park had been hired by CBS as a writer, he saw the press release for ‘United States of Al’ and said, “they totally ripped off my story and turned it into a racist comedy.”
I love that they totally ripped off my story and turned it into a racist comedy btw https://t.co/xl80RgaolY
Interestingly, Park is currently writing on ‘68 Whiskey’, a comedy-drama about Army medics in Afghanistan. In another Twitter thread he outlined the crazy story of how a writer on season one of the show. Brinkwire Summary News. For more information, search on the internet.