"24" Season 4; 12:00pm-1:00pm. Two-dozen Muslim hostiles toting semi-automatics hold the U.S. Secretary of Defense hostage in a bunker outside Los Angeles. Within the hour they plan to execute him for war crimes. Why? “It’s Jihad,” explains the terrorist mastermind. Suddenly, U.S. agent Jack Bauer emerges through shadow and hurls a knife through the terrorist's neck. 24 and its hero Bauer, played by Keifer Sutherland, make for popular TV, with fifteen million U.S. viewers. But actor Maz Jobrani, who wouldn’t take the role of the terrorist mastermind, says the show is bad for him and for America.
Maz, a bald, mustached Iranian American, grew up playing Li'l Abner and Batman in high school. In college, his Iranian parents pushed him to political science, which he dabbled in before deciding he liked the camera more than the lectern. But in the real world of Hollywood, auditions started coming in “for terrorist role after terrorist role” -- and “generic” terrorists at that “with no emotional or psychological complexity.” For an actor, it was boring. For an Iranian, belittling. And for Americans, Maz says, it's dangerously oversimplifying.
According to Maz, the problem with TV like this is that when average American viewers see a white American villain on screen, they think “‘Wow, that American’s crazy,’” but when they see a Middle Eastern or Iranian villain on screen they say, “‘Man those Iranians are crazy.’ They don’t distinguish.”