Fans of the award-winning Showtime series "Homeland" are this week talking about a very curious "Easter egg" hidden in the background of the latest episode: graffiti decrying the show's supposed racism.
Why in the world would top-tier Hollywood producers have harsh criticisms of their show – such as "Homeland is a joke, and it didn't make us laugh," written in Arabic – hidden in their own work?
Ask former University of Minnesota student Heba Amin, one of the artists hired by "Homeland" to paint the graffiti in question.
She took advantage of the makers' lack of Arabian knowledge by daubing a series of pointed criticisms of the show, starring Claire Danes, which then appeared in the background when it was broadcast.
Amin wrote in a blog post that the producers, trying for an authentic portrayal of a Syrian refugee camp by showing realistic graffiti in the background of certain scenes, sought "Arabian street artists" for the job and eventually approached her and two other cohorts.
They realized it was an opportunity, she says, to voice some serious dissatisfaction with the series, which a Washington Post op-ed writer last year called "the most bigoted show on television."
Amin's own feelings on that issue are pretty clear: on her website, she slammed "Homeland" for its "thinly veiled propaganda" and its "inaccurate...and highly biased depiction of Arabs, Pakistanis, and Afghans," as well as its "gross" misrepresentation of the "so-called Muslim world in general."
"It was our moment," she writes, "to make our point by subverting the message using the show itself."
The most pointed of these many subversive textual messages, all in Arabic, is also the most simple: "Homeland is racist," according to Amin's translation.
Others are "Homeland is a joke, and it didn't make us laugh," and "Homeland is watermelon," an insult that the artist explains is often used to refer to something as a "sham."
'Homeland' producer speaks out
The reaction of Homeland co-creator and producer Alex Gansa might surprise you.
"We wish we’d caught these images before they made it to air," the New York Times quotes him as saying. He added, however, that since "‘Homeland’ always strives to be subversive in its own right... we can’t help but admire this act of artistic sabotage."
MPR News says Amin is currently a visiting professor at the American University of Cairo in Egypt. The station says she got her MFA at the U of M and is a 2002 Macalester graduate.