On “Tyrant”: Its Cancellation and Its Importance in Pop Culture

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Tyrant, a surprise FX hit, has been cancelled after three seasons. Tyrant started out as a rough show for me, to be honest, but it has grown into one of the most delightfully subversive and thought-provoking shows on television for me. I’ve also been able to get to know some of the cast members on a personal basis, and while it’s always cool to say “I know that person on TV,” it’s even more rewarding to be able to help them promote the show and learn more about their acting processes. In short, Tyrant has become a very important part of my life on a personal basis, so I’m truly sad to see that it’s gone.

The importance of Tyrant goes beyond just my own personal stake in the show. Tyrant provided its viewers with a much more multifaceted look at the Middle East. Granted, there were times when individual episodes or individual scripted moments of characterization could have not represented a character or characters in the most well-rounded light. But as a whole, the characters of Tyrant presented a microcosm of individuality. There are Western-aligned characters like Fauzi and Halima. There are characters who create their own space in society, like Leila. There are criminals like Ihab. There are despots like Jamal and, to be frank, his brother Bassam. There are people trying to find themselves, like Ahmed. There are idealists like Rami. Basically, just like in America, there are people who fit every mode of life. There is no one monolith of the Middle East, and I appreciate Tyrant for showing that, especially in its later seasons.

Related: Monique’s Tyrant recaps for the Entertainment Weekly Community Blog 

Tyrant also provided a space for Middle Eastern actors to showcase their talents. Actors like Moran Atias, Alexander Karim, Ashraf Barhom, Cameron Gharaee, Sibylla Deen, Fares Fares and others aren’t normally on our TV screens and for no real reason. Yet, on Tyrant, we can finally see these actors portray characters that we either identify with or love to hate. Tyrant could (and should) be used as a platform for these actors. As I’ve written last year in my article, “The Next Omar Sharif: Why Finding the Next Middle Eastern Hollywood Star is Easier Than We Think”:

Tyrant has become one of the few places on television, if not the only place right now, where people can view Middle Eastern characters on a primetime show each week. The show could also act as a platform for many of its actors who are still looking for mainstream success…[T]he show’s stellar second season could be the true jumping off-point for the show’s stars and for other shows who want to follow in Tyrant‘s path.

Overall, Tyrant brought a new points of view into the homes of Americans each week, and the loss of Tyrant, a show with a predominately brown cast, will once again open up a void in media representation. Surely, TV producers and creators should be creating more shows about Middle Eastern characters and/or American characters of Middle Eastern descent. Tyrant shouldn’t be the only one holding down this responsibility. But Tyrant performed a very specific task for many Americans, which was creating a safe space to explore different experiences of Middle Eastern life.

Cameron Gharaee, who played Ahmed, spoke to me for the (sadly finished) Entertainment Weekly Community Blog about the importance of the show around this time last year. I’ll end the article with part of the exchange we had.

Seasons one and two featured a lot of references to real-life events like the Arab Spring and the fall of certain Middle Eastern regimes. There’s also the fact that this is an American show about Middle Eastern characters on an American network, which hasn’t happened in a long time, to be conservative about it. What do you think about Tyrant‘s influence in America? Do you think it’s helped open some minds about Middle Eastern people and ridding people of stereotypes?

We’re probably able to unveil some things in culture that maybe America doesn’t understand, or maybe they haven’t seen before. For me, the key to this show is just literally pulling the curtain back and saying, “This is what’s going on, this is what’s happening. You can take it in pieces … and see what it is that you like.” The great thing about a show like this, just from an actor’s standpoint, is just having these faces onscreen. You don’t see a lot of these characters. Usually it’s just a terrorist or just someone screaming into a microphone. I think what’s great about this show is that these are people too.

A lot of Americans don’t know about the Middle East, yet they have strong political views on things—but these are people too, and they have struggles. It makes it an even playing field for everyone, and it’s going to open a lot of doors, hopefully. Especially with the show doing well and people enjoying it, it can open the door for more shows. I think that’s what this is; it’s a bridge to testing the waters and saying, “Look, these shows are entertaining, these people do have an interesting culture.” It’s rich and colorful, and they have really amazing personas. The personalities of the culture are very fascinating … it’s a beautiful culture. I think this is a bridge to open that door for more stories to be told—and that’s all you can really hope for.

I have it on good authority that the Tyrant team is currently shopping the show around to other networks, and I certainly hope they succeed, because a show like this, and the messages it has given its audience, are too important to miss.

What did you love about Tyrant? What network do you hope it goes to? Give your opinions in the comments section below!