If you haven’t seen “The Night Of,” HBO’s remake of the BBC series “Criminal Justice,” go watch it now—it’s incredibly written, casted, acted, and directed. The realism of the show is so intense and believable that it brings about some level of physical anxiety and discomfort. As an empathetic writer, I truly felt for Nasir “Naz”, played by Riz Ahmed, as he is wrongly accused of murder and slowly evolves into an actual criminal while waiting in Riker’s Island without bail for his rigged, bureaucratic trial. However, in the end, its critique of American racism is undercut by the use of another character who receives the fate that seemed reserved for Naz throughout all eight hours of the story.The beginning of the series is stronger than the ending, but racism towards Muslim-Americans is ever-present.
Even without context, it is abundantly clear that this is a post-9/11 story. In fact, Naz’s family and the wily public defender Jack Stone, played perfectly by John Turturro, are likely the only “unbiased” characters in the series. As much as it pains me to write, I think this lack of humanity actually works to strengthen the already suffocating realism of “The Night Of.”
Persecution of the Prosecution
Public perception of a Muslim killing a white girl should not determine the outcome of the trial, but it does color the jury and the prosecution uses this prejudice as an advantage at every turn. More than a satire of American racism, “The Night Of” tends to demonize state prosecutors and the lengths they will go to prove that the wheels of justice are real and, most importantly, well-oiled. Clearly, the prosecution, led by the smart, steely Helen Weiss (Jeannie Berlin) are not racist, they simply prey upon the prejudices of the public and jury to further their selfish aims.
A Quiet Symbol
All in all, the series touches upon and dissects American racism towards Muslims, but ultimately gives it a pass. Without spoiling the ending, there is an event that occurs in prison that, in reality, would have happened to Naz rather than the voiceless, marginalized character who only served as the victim of a horrible act. In sparing Naz from these circumstances, “The Night Of” neuters its criticism of American racism by showing that the main character is lucky to have avoided such a horrible consequence of being a Muslim in the United States.