In a new documentary called “My Week as a Muslim,” the United Kingdom’s Channel 4 dressed a white woman as a Pakistani Muslim — complete with makeup to darken her skin, a prosthetic nose and hjiab — then sent her into the world to understand firsthand “what it’s like to be a Muslim in Britain today and challenge some of the assumptions and prejudices that different communities in the U.K. have about each other.”

But after a trailer aired last week, critics responded swiftly.

The project

The white woman, Katie Freeman, is a 44-year-old National Health Service health-care assistant. She lives in a predominantly white area in northwest England. Before she started the project, Freeman said she had never spent any time with Muslims. And she admitted to holding some intolerant views. Driving through a Muslim neighborhood, she said, “you see them and think they’re going to blow something up.” At another point, she remarks, “you wouldn’t even think this was England.”

But once she donned her Muslim attire, Freeman said she began to see things differently. She was shouted at while walking down the street, and heckled while passing her local pub. One man called her a "f — -ing Muslim.” When the Manchester terrorist attack occurred two days into the shoot, Freeman wanted to back out. But she stayed after host Saima Alvi explained “this is what I face every day.”

“It makes me ashamed to live here,” Freeman said afterward. “I was raging and fuming inside. But I also felt vulnerable. What harm was I doing?”

The mission

Fozia Khan, the documentary’s executive producer, said she hoped his experiment would change minds and make people more tolerant. “We saw divided communities, people living side by side but not mixing,” Khan said.

“We wanted to do something bold, a kind of social experiment: to take someone with no exposure to the Muslim community and give her a really authentic experience. The transformation in her appearance was important for that.”

The offensiveness

Fiyaz Mughal, the founder of Tell Mama, an organization that monitors anti-Muslim abuse and attacks, called the show “absolutely shocking” and “a complete catastrophe.”

“Just think for one second if that was done against the Jewish community. There would be legitimate accusations of anti-Semitism, which would be correct and clear,” he told the Guardian. “So why is this okay for the Muslim community, in the desire to reach what I think is a laudable objective? They could have simply taken a secret camera and got Muslim women to record things that happen to them every day. But they tried to maximize their audience by putting a twist on it, a twist that has badly backfired.”

“The use of brownface and blackface has a long racist history and it is not surprising that it has caused deep offense amongst some communities. Had we been consulted, we would not have advised this approach,” the Muslim Council of Britain said in a statement. “We do, however, laud the apparent goals of the documentary — to better understand the reality of Islamophobia, which has become socially accepted across broader society.”

But Alvi defended the show, and her participation in it.

“People were negative about the idea,” she said, according to the Guardian. “But there are lots of people out there who just haven’t had the chance to engage with Muslims.”

She and Freeman, she says, are still friends.

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