“I have been part of projects where it is not dealt with sensitively or accurately and it’s incredibly painful,” said Ashe in an interview while promoting The CW series during the Television Critics Association’s most recent meeting.
One of Ashe’s first breaks was in a soap opera. She took the role to pay the bills, but said she would never agree to the part now.
“It’s still actually painful for me to talk about because it was such a stereotype,” she recalled. “I try not to berate myself for taking it because I understand the reasons that I did. But I would never, I would never say ‘yes’ to something like that now.
"Going through that experience taught me the power of saying ‘no’ and saying like, ‘Actually I’m not okay with that.’ And if that’s all there is out there for me then it’s okay. I’ll go work in a law firm pouring coffee. I’d rather do that than to be part of promoting that stereotype.”
Her experience playing Zari, a computer-hacking superhero in Legends, could not have been more different.
“What is great is (her ethnicity) is an aspect of who she is, as much as she’s an activist and she’s a strong woman and someone who speaks truth to power,” Ashe said.
“It’s really important that we have representation in the media and specifically we have Muslim-American representation that isn’t just positive in a sort of rosy, unnuanced way, but is a real person. And there’s so much of the other right now and there’s so much making Muslims ‘the other’ that I’m excited to play this character in what I hope will be a very nuanced and sensitive, accurate way.”
Ashe was particularly impressed when show runners brought in a Muslim-American writer to help craft her role.
“I do think there are more stories being told. I think more stories can be championed both in theatre and in television and certainly in movies. I think we have a long way to go in terms of representation in movies. But I think TV is doing kind of the best job in terms of realising that we need to reflect our world,” she said.
Ashe aims to be a positive role model for young fans and perhaps break down a few stereotypes along the way.
“I’m excited to see what the reaction is and if it can make someone feel a little less alone or - here’s the big hope - if it can change a mind,” she said.
* Season 2 of DC Legends of Tomorrow is currently showing on M-Net City, DStv Channel 115 with repeats throughout the week.