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Rohina Malik draws curtain on Muslim American stereotypes in ‘Unveiled’

Celina Colby
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Rohina Malik draws curtain on Muslim American stereotypes in ‘Unveiled’
Rohina Malik in the 2018 Black Box production of “Unveiled.” PHOTO: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures

In 2018, Rohina Malik’s powerful one-woman show “Unveiled” on the New Repertory Theatre stage confronted racism, stereotypes and the diversity of Muslim Americans. Now, an updated film version of “Unveiled” will stream with New Rep April 2–21. Audiences watching remotely will meet five Muslim women in a post 9/11 world who confront the challenges of their experience over pots of tea.

Rohina Malik in the 2018 Black Box production of “Unveiled.” PHOTO: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures

Malik was inspired to put her show together after seeing countless depictions of Muslim people as tropes of either terrorists or oppressed women hidden behind hijabs. “What I never saw was regular Muslim Americans trying to live their lives,” says Malik. “And I feel that when a community is rarely depicted as regular folk, it’s a form of dehumanization.”

She drew from her own experiences and those of her friends and family to compile these five characters. The stories range from a Pakistani dressmaker living in America who no longer makes wedding dresses after a racism-fueled incident, to a woman with South Asian roots residing in West London and channeling her frustration with bigotry into a hip-hop track. The women are connected by their shared challenges and by the Muslim teas they drink while telling their stories.

This use of tea to thread the stories together also exhibits a human impulse to generate community over food and drink. At many post-show talks during the in-person runs of the show, the audience would drink chai while chatting with Malik about the piece. Malik hopes to create similar conversations during the Zoom talkbacks scheduled with New Rep.

Rohina Malik

PHOTO: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures

The COVID-19 shutdowns provided Malik with the perfect opportunity to make the “Unveiled” film, a project that had been on her mind for some time. “All of a sudden, all my bookings are canceled, and I have a completely empty schedule,” she says. Quarantining with her sister who is a filmmaker made the piece a natural quarantine project for the two artists. The one-woman, monologue-driven show translated seamlessly into the new format.

Malik hopes audience members experience a range of emotions during the show. She hopes they laugh, cry and look inward at their own biases.

“We are not a monolith. There are queer Muslims, there are trans Muslims, there are orthodox Muslims, there are cultural Muslims. We are a vast community and we express ourselves differently in our faith,” says Malik. “I hope [audience members] walk away with stereotypes shattered and seeing that Muslim women are their sisters in humanity.”