(Panel on "Halal in the Family" web series, starring Aasif Mandvi, at the Ford Foundation/ Ford Foundation)
Conversation with Mik Moore, Principal, and Miriam Fogelson, Senior Associate, Moore + Associates, about Halal in the Family: April 28, 2015
Taryn Higashi (TH): Halal in the Family has been getting a lot of exciting media attention. Have there been any surprises in the responses or ways that the media is talking about the series?
Miriam Fogelson (MF): All the press has been positive. I am surprised because I was expecting more of a backlash from right wing media and the organized Islamophobia network.
Mik Moore (MM): Some articles had sophisticated analysis about what the series is meant to do and where it fits into the broader popular culture. This was not just coming from us, but from the writers themselves.
MF: Yes, without us spelling it out in our press release, a lot of outlets are connecting the dots. They are talking about the lack of Muslims in Hollywood and how that impacts the way Muslims are viewed in this country.
TH: How are Muslim human rights groups using the content? How are they reacting to the webisodes?
MM: They’re sharing it with their communities. They’re doing screenings and in-person engagement with the series. There’s been interest in developing a curriculum around it. The screenings have been popular among the organizations and give people a chance to get direct feedback and answer questions.
TH: Do you have any information about who is watching the webisodes? Is there any evidence—anecdotal or otherwise—that the webisodes are reaching "new" audiences?
MM: There are things we can extrapolate from the data and there is hard data. We can extrapolate geographic and gender breakdown because we are supplementing the video outreach with paid advertising. We have used that to make sure we are reaching our persuadable category/audience, and we have some interesting data. If you compare someone who self identifies as an independent versus someone who identifies themselves as a Democrat, the person who identifies themselves as Democrat is twice as likely to watch the video as someone who identifies as independent. This is across all videos.
TH: Is Halal in the Family teaching you anything new about comedy’s role in engaging the public on a difficult issue? Or your understanding of what works and what doesn’t and why?
MM: Halal in the Family is both a satire and a parody of sitcom. It’s clear from reading comments and questions received that for some people, either or both can go over their heads.*
MF: It’s been interesting to see how people respond. It’s been helpful to have the screenings to engage in dialogue. There are questions about why are we doing what we are doing, and why we chose to present the family this way. After we give an explanation, it seems like a light bulb goes off and people see the series differently.
Overall, seeing the reaction in the media and how people are responding affirms our theory that if we’re using comedy to try to get a conversation started and reach new audiences to pay attention, comedy—and risky comedy—is important. We didn’t want to water down the humor, and we took some risks and put in some content that would shock people. But without that, we wouldn’t have gotten the media coverage. The media loves comedy and controversy. We delivered both. And the reach of the media coverage has been great; it will allow us to reach the more persuadable audience.
TH: In your wildest dreams, if funders could help you do anything you want, what would it be? What would you wish for?
MM: Speaking more broadly, we would love for there to be a place where people developing these kinds of projects can go to more quickly to pull funding together.
TH: Would this be a fund like Sundance fund for documentary filmmakers? Or just a group of funders willing to bet on this type of project based on a track record of success?
MM: Last year at [Unbound grantee] Opportunity Agenda's Creative Change retreat I had a brainstorm that somebody should create a Good Pitch for a comedy web video or web video more broadly. There is a shift of mentality around what web videos are capable of and how they should be funded. There are lots of models to use or borrow from the documentary film space.
MF: By Ford and Unbound taking a chance, it has proved our success and made it easier to take that risk and easier to get resources. If there are opportunities to bring creative people and issue area experts together, amazing things can happen. When people learn about the work we do, there is a lot of interest. The barrier is finding the financing for them.
TH: Miriam, what would you wish for?
MF: It would be great to have a curriculum and outreach strategy to use the show as a teaching tool, and get it into the hands of schools and universities.
*However, the views on Funny or Die, response from fans, and media coverage (see these articles in The Guardian, The Nation, and The New York Times), show that there is an audience that understands and appreciates our approach.