Disgraced is the Pulitzer-prize winning play about stereotypes harbored against Muslims. The play centers around a dinner between two couples who descend into a conversation about religion that causes cultural misconceptions to surface.
Amir is the son of Pakistani immigrants and an M&A lawyer, his wife Emily is a painter, Jori is Amir’s black co-worker whose husband Isaac is Jewish and a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. To Amir, Emily and Isaac’s unease with criticizing Islam based on a principle that one shouldn’t criticize a religion is the result of a failure to having read and studied the Koran, which is naïve and patronizing.
In an exchange that serves as a foreshadow, Amir attempts to provoke Emily and Isaac into viewing Islam as being incompatible with their modern sensibilities by quoting the Koran about how a husband should handle a disobedient wife by suspending relations, and if that doesn’t work, beat her. As part of their discussion on religion, Amir insists that when you corner someone and put them on the defensive, their instinctive reaction will reflect their culture.
The dinner is ruined when Jori discovers that Isaac and Emily are having an affair, and Jori reveals she’s been chosen to make partner instead of Amir; the result of Emily’s persistence for Amir to meet with his nephew’s imam in detention due to accusations his charity is fundraising for a terrorist organization, and after the New York Times identifies Amir as the imam’s counsel, Amir’s firm whose founding partners have distinctly Jewish names are seeking a way to push him out. In his anger and frustration, after Isaac and Jori leave, Amir hits Emily.
Amir’s nephew pays him a visit in the final scene to inform him that he plans to return to Pakistan. Amir tries to convince him why this would be a mistake, because Amir knows something about Pakistan and how their parents left it for a better life in America. Amir’s nephew points out that Amir denied his religion and identity for the sake of fitting in, and in the end what good did it come to? He lost his job and his wife. To Amir’s nephew’s way of thinking, in a post- 9/11 world, Muslims would never be accepted in America.
Disgraced portrays the unfairness Muslims in America are subjected to as the result of stereotypes, but it does so in a contrived way. The events that precipitate the loss of Amir’s job would have been sufficient, and adding Emily and Isaac’s affair just seemed like piling on and overburdening Amir’s character to make a point. Someone familiar with the Koran might appreciate Amir’s critique of Islam, but without any knowledge of these verses, the citations sounded like an academic analysis rather than dialogue. And having Amir’s actions fulfill a stereotype in a weak moment only served to undercut the message Ayad Akhtar was trying to convey. A simpler storyline would have been more powerful.
It’s worth noting that Ayad Akhtar didn’t write Jori as a stereotypical black character, which was refreshing. Accept for a reference of the N-word thrown in by Amir, Jori came off as an intelligent professional focused on her career and family, and such black female characters are underrepresented in the arts.