The Bold Type’s Nikohl Boosheri On Playing a “Badass” Muslim Woman on TV
"I think Adena's a really inspiring character because she's so unapologetic about who she is, and really embraces all the things that make her complicated and different."
She’s a lesbian, an artist, a feminist—and she’s Muslim. Fictional character Adena El-Amin on hit new television show The Bold Type is a revelation as far as Muslim portrayals in pop culture go. Being depicted as complex, fully realized, well-rounded human beings is a luxury few characters of the Islamic faith ever get onscreen, and it’s a responsibility that’s not lost on Nikohl Boosheri, the Persian-Canadian actress who plays her on the show. Ahead of The Bold Type’s season 2 premiere on June 12, we chatted with her about Muslim representation on TV, empowering female friendships, and more.
As I’m sure you know, your character has been resonating with young women around the world. It’s so refreshing to see a Muslim character on a TV show whose storyline does not revolve around something political, or terrorism-related. Your character is an artist, a feminist, a lesbian… there are so many different layers to her, which is rare to see. What do you think it is about the character that makes her so special, and why people are responding so positively to her in particular?
I think Adena’s a really inspiring character because she’s so unapologetic about who she is, and really embraces all the things that make her complicated and different. She openly identifies as a feminist, intersectional, Muslim, lesbian. The parts of her that have had women like her marginalized in the past seem to empower her or motivate her, and actually drive her as an individual and artist. I think there’s something really optimistic about that, especially at this time.
It’s interesting that so many different kinds of women have connected with her, even if they don’t identify or agree with her 100%. There’s still a hunger to see that kind of representation, or to see a part of themselves represented on television like that.
What was the first thing about her that stood out to you on the page when you read the part?
Well she just seemed like such a badass. In the pilot episode, she’s quippy, she’s fearless, she has a point of view, she’s strong. She’s kind of a dream character to play. Not to mention, with Muslim women in the media, they’re usually depicted as being in control of a man, or a victim or powerless or submissive in some way. So I think it’s just really refreshing and important to see a woman like Adena who’s very much in the driver’s seat of her own life.
Growing up, you probably never saw anyone that looked like you or had similar experiences to you portrayed in pop culture. So what kind of stuff do you wish you could have seen when you were younger?
As a kid growing up watching Disney films and television shows where the central characters were pretty much always either men or beautiful white women, I remember my cousins and I putting on our mom’s underskirts on our heads to have red hair or blonde hair, to be like the Disney princesses that we watched. Hilarious! But I actually never really thought about the impact of that until recently, in thinking about what a great example Adena is. Seeing people’s reactions… it’s really touching. But it says so much, there’s such a hunger for that and it feels so good, it justifies your existence almost and tells you that it’s okay and that you’re accepted and beautiful just the way you are. And we didn’t really have that growing up.
Going back to Adena, how much input did you have in the character, in terms of how she dresses, how she speaks, things like that?
It’s a very collaborative process, and that’s what makes it really special. All the actors bring a lot of themselves into their characters, and there’s a great back and forth with our showrunner and writers and producers. So I did get to have quite a bit of input. For example, how Adena wraps her headscarf.
Yes, I love that she ties it differently every time, uses different fabrics, different colours… That brings a level of realism that we don’t always see.
Yeah, I wanted it to be really beautiful. She’s not forced to wear the scarf—I actually feel that her family isn’t religious, they’re not practising. So this is very much her individual choice, it’s a way of representing herself and expressing herself. And she’s proud of that. So I think there’s something very individual to the way she wraps it. And Instagram has been such an amazing, incredible tool! I follow so many beautiful, amazing, fashionable, strong hijabi women now. I’m inspired all the time by these women that I’m seeing on the Internet. There’s a woman Blair Imani, she’s a speaker, writer and motivator. I remember she posted this picture of herself with her family over Christmas break, in which she wasn’t wearing a headscarf. Sometimes she doesn’t wear one, and I guess she’s got a bit of backlash online from that, and she posted this photo of herself with and without it, and she was like ‘I’m a Muslim with or without my headscarf’ and I just loved that. It resonated with me so much. This is about choice, there’s no right or wrong way to do this. In discussions when you’re collaborating like that, you’re bringing all of these things to the table to hopefully create someone who feels multidimensional and real.
You probably can’t talk much about season 2, but is there anything you can tell us about where her story goes? And is there any #Kadena gossip you can share?
You’re going to get me in trouble! Well at the end of season 1, we see Adena’s having immigration issues and she has to leave the United States, and Kat kind of takes this leap and follows her, I mean we’re not sure if she follows her or not [in the finale]. And at the beginning of season 2, we see Kat and Adena coming home, back to the States together, and really giving domestic life a good shot. It’s going to be very cool. We see Adena meet Kat’s parents. They are to be in a full, real relationship. I don’t know if I can share much more than that. It’s an exciting season.
What kind of dialogue and change do you hope that a show like The Bold Type and your character in particular brings about?
I think the dialogue that’s already begun is very inspiring. If even one person watches this show and sees themselves in one of the characters and it just makes them feel like it’s okay, then I feel like we’ve done our job. Also, I think it’s our responsibility as artists to reflect the times and I think this show really does that. I’m excited to see what kind of dialogue season 2 starts.