A new TV drama based on the true story of an “honour” murder is facing criticism for allegedly “shifting the focus” to a white protagonist.
ITV’s Honour will star Keeley Hawes as detective Caroline Goode, who brought Banaz Mahmod’s killers to justice.
Furquan Akhtar, a writer, told the BBC: “This story is about Caroline, not Banaz. That’s problematic.”
But executive producer Liza Marshall said they wanted “to shine a light on the bravery of Banaz and Caroline”.
On Monday, an ITV press release announcing the two-parter described Honour as “the heartbreaking true story of Banaz Mahmod, the young Londoner murdered by her own family for falling in love with the wrong man”.
It also “tells the powerful story of Detective Chief Inspector Caroline Goode’s passionate search” to find out what happened to the 20-year-old.
Mahmod was killed in 2006 after her father and uncle ordered her murder when she left her violent husband and began a relationship with another man. The Independent Police Complaints Commission found that she had been let down by police.
Furquan Akhtar, who has written for such shows as CBBC’s Dumping Ground, told BBC News: “I will never tell a person what they can and cannot write.
“However, when there are so few stories being told about Muslims and ethnic minorities, the few shows that we do have feel like they’re mostly centred around negative stories.
“That’s not to say we should not speak about so-called ‘honour’ killings but it would be easier for us to accept scripted drama telling negative stories if there were more opportunities for us to tell positive ones, too.”
Some critics picked up on a quote from the drama’s writer Gwyneth Hughes, who said in the press release: “That this story is ultimately so uplifting is down to the sheer heroism and dedication of the police officers who hunted down her killers.”
Dramatist Vinay Patel, who was behind the BBC’s Murdered By My Father, said he had “masses of respect” for Hughes, but that billing it as an “‘ultimately uplifting’ star vehicle” felt “deeply inappropriate to the case”.
He wrote on Twitter: “The framing on this makes me deeply uneasy, especially since the police did not take Banaz seriously when she came to them for help weeks before her murder.
“I’ve no doubt that failure will be tackled as part of it, of course, but as ever the question is whose story we centre and why.”
But Patel acknowledged the project was still in pre-production and it remained to be seen how the drama would play out.
Others felt it was right to have the police investigation at the centre of the story.
Hawes is an executive producer on Honour as well as being its star. Akhtar said: “I’d have to agree that it’ll bring publicity to the drama but I hope that it brings more awareness to Banaz’s story and helps prevent crimes like this in the future.”
But he also pointed to the broader issue of diversity among writers on British TV.
“TV has to do better across all minorities. That includes ethnicity, gender, class and sexuality,” he said.
“I have been working in TV for nine years now. It really feels like we have to fight for the bigger picture first before we’re allowed to talk about the nuances within our communities. There should be no queue for diversity and often we’re made to feel like there is.
“Having dealt with racism throughout my whole life, I still maintain that I never thought as much about the colour of my skin until I started working in the British TV industry.”