Islamophobia, ‘Brownface’ and media controversies: An analysis of newspaper media responses to channel 4’s ‘My Week as a Muslim’

by Gabrielle Weyer


UROS 2019 Project Profile PictureThe documentary ‘My Week as a Muslim’ aired on Channel 4 in October 2017. This programme followed a white Christian woman, who spent a week in Islamic dress, brown make-up and prosthetics in order to ‘experience life as a Muslim’ in Manchester in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena Bombing.

The aim of my project was to look at how the newspaper media responded to the programme. I wished to find out whether the show was received positively or negatively and how claims of ‘brownface’ were or were not represented in the newspaper media. In order to establish how newspapers responded I downloaded newspaper articles associated with ‘My Week as a Muslim’ using Nexis then coded the articles based on reactions to the programme.

Importantly, the show did receive national news coverage, potentially meaning that it did raise some awareness of Islamophobia. However, many newspaper responses have criticised the show for being Islamophobic in itself. A significant amount of the responses criticised the show for centralising the experiences of a non-Muslim woman, using brownface and being racist in the ‘stereotypical’ portrayal of the Muslim community.

During the project, I was able to work through a few obstacles. Due to time constraints and problems in accessing other forms of media data, a decision was made to use content analysis. When I read the articles, I made clear guidelines for myself about whether a response was ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ based on the phrases that were used, yet these positions are largely subjective. I also made a third category for articles that were neither ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ in their response to allow these articles to be represented. Another problem was when the data set was downloaded, some newspapers were duplicated meaning the initial data set was much larger than the data used. Despite this, a large data pool was still analysed, and the results were representative of the newspapers responses to the programme. Had there been more time, I would have liked to take the research further and analyse the kinds of newspapers involved, the nature of the articles (e.g. TV review, opinion piece) and the presence of social media data.

The aspect of working with a supervisor has been a positive experience for me. Lisa aided me where need be and provided me with resources I would otherwise struggle to obtain.

The experience of my UROS project has prepared me for my future as I intend to get a career within social research after I graduate. The project has given me experience in completing an ethics form, working to a time schedule, working collaboratively and also provided me with an opportunity to conduct primary research for myself. I hope that the experience will also prepare me for my dissertation as it has given me a first-hand insight into producing a piece of research.

*To view Gabrielle’s project poster, please click on the thumbnail below: