While we wait to see if FX’s Tyrant will be picked up by another network, there’s been some interesting news from Tyrant‘s EP Howard Gordon. Apparently, he also felt the first season left a lot to be desired.
In a Sept. 7 interview with Deadline, Gordon gave his true feelings on that first season, which involved a host of offensive things as well as meandering characterizations.
GORDON: Well, I’m disappointed but not entirely surprised [about Tyrant‘s cancellation]. We were hoping for an eleventh-hour reprieve, but I’ve long known it was an uphill battle. But look, I also dn’t think the first season was our strongest season and that didn’t help matters unfortunately. I try to be pretty honest in my own assessment of what seasons worked and how they worked in relation to each other. We got off to a slow start and never really recovered from it, that’s just a fact.
I have to agree with Gordon. As much as I do love Tyrant, and as much as I can see its potential, I too think that the first season affected Tyrant for the rest of its television life. Even though the show began picking up steam towards the end of the first season and had finally found its footing in the second and third seasons, that first season still sticks in the mind as a season that didn’t give off the best impression. If anything, that first episode in particular seemed like it wanted to do as much as it could to garner its TV MA rating.
Related: ‘Tyrant’ recap: A traumatic start to a season | Monique’s Entertainment Weekly’s Community Blog recap
Howard’s surprising honesty has given me a good insight as to how the show was able to rectify itself, though. EPs who are honest about their own work and are willing to criticize themselves along with the TV critics shows a personal commitment to storytelling.
Hopefully, Tyrant can come back in some form. Perhaps it could even be rebooted in some way so that Howard can finally tell the story he might have wanted to tell from the get-go. Seems like Howard gives an indication as to what kind of story he wanted to tell, a story that was finally unfolding in the third season.
DEADLINE: And you had that speech by Annet Mahenddru’s widowed Nafisa Al-Qadi proclaiming that “Islam is peace”–not exactly a statement we hear on TV of late especially durig this election season.
GORDON: One of the ideas and one of the themes we had this season was the battle for the heart and the soul of Islam. Obviously, neither Chris nor I are [speaking] with any authority on that, but we did want to reflect voices in Islam that don’t get a platform or that stage enough in real life because they are blunted by louder, more violent and angrier voices. So we gave a fictional platform to some very real voices. Those are some of the voices that some of our regional consultants on the show felt the series had kept out of the story.
What do you think about Tyrant’s first season? Give your opinions in the comments section below!
One of the most interesting things to come out of the three-season run of Tyrant was the handling of the character of Bassam. Bassam has been a character that has been an interesting component of my TV criticism of Tyrant. In fact, calling him “interesting” is an understatement and a euphemism. I’ll quote what I wrote about him for the Entertainment Weekly Community Blog in the very first episode of the very first season:
First, there is a white British actor (Adam Rayner) playing a Middle Eastern character. Did his casting alter the casting of Barry’s mother, Amira (Alice Maud Krige), so there could be some kind of continuity and for the show to possibly avoid accusations of whitewashing? Even so, the fact that there is a non-Middle Eastern actor playing the savior-type role opposite an actual Middle Eastern actor (Ashraf Barhom) playing the devil in a suit [Jamal] is quite troubling.
As you can see, I’ve always had a problem with Bassam being played by a white actor. The idea that a show set in the Middle East needed a white face to market to American audiences is ludicrous. It’s the classic Hollywood trope of having a white actor play Detective Chan or Othello; for some reason, studio heads think that the majority of white Americans won’t be able to identify with someone who doesn’t look like them. It doesn’t give the viewing public any credit for their own smarts, and it doesn’t give POC actors any credit for actually having acting talent as well as the ability to connect with audiences, no matter what the audience might look like. If white actors are expected to have the ability to connect with white and non-white audiences, then POC actors should be given that same chance.
Tyrant buttressed the whitewashing with Jamal, who is played by Israeli-Arab actor Ashraf Barhom. How come Barhom, who is of the region, tasked to play the “bad Arab” guy, while Rayner, who is not only white but has no cultural ties to the Middle East, gets to play the “good Arab” brother? To go back to Hollywood tropes, it’s the classic tale of having the white lead play against aggressive, sexually deviant, villainous “natives.” For instance, when Tarzan has to fight tribes of cannibals, or when the white lead has to defeat the Dragon Lady. This trope is even as recent as 2015’s No Escape, in which Owen Wilson and his family have to escape the terrorizing Asian natives in an unspecified Pacific island nation.
Now, none of this is to say that Barhom didn’t play the shiznit out of his role. Indeed, despite Jamal’s villainy, he still imbued the right amount of humanity for Jamal to be seen, at times, as a tragic figure who’s biggest enemy is himself. But that portrayal of Jamal is completely due to Barhom’s tremendous acting talent. Otherwise, Jamal would have been a one-note monster, instead of a complicated one.
Related: Monique’s Tyrant recaps for the Entertainment Weekly Community Blog
Talking about Jamal, though, is a digression from the topic at hand, which is Bassam’s self-hatred. The reason I state Bassam has self-hatred is due in part due to the fact that he’s played by a white actor. To quote myself in a previous Tyrant article:
To me, Rayner’s Bassam hints at something unsavory that seems to be true to the character; Bassam has a large level of self-hate. Not just for his own actions, but for his culture. Sure, he comes from a line of despots. But he can’t separate the actions of his family from the overall culture of his home and the citizens that make up his home. He strikes me just as what he looks like; a Middle Eastern man who passes for white so he can get the benefits of living in America, and who lives in America so long that he removes himself from his home, his former identity, and his former actions. But, with Rayner’s Bassam taking this tone, there are new questions. Is this the tone the creator(s) wanted for Bassam in the first place? Does this tone make him less sympathetic? Would critics like me even see this side of Bassam if he was cast using an actual Middle Eastern actor (because Middle Eastern people come in all shades)? I don’t know. Such is the case with a complicated scenario of Rayner as Bassam.
The way Rayner has played Bassam (and the way he has been written) has been utterly fascinating to me and, if it was handled more adeptly at the beginning, could have told a very nuanced tale of a man who finds himself on an unwilling journey to come to terms with his culture and his ethnicity.
Shaun Lau, one of the contributors to my currently-evolving series #RepresentYourStory, wrote about his own battles of overcoming internalized self-hate. His story sounds a lot like what Bassam’s might have been; feeling like you’d rather be accepted by the Westernized (i.e. white) gaze than your own culture, wanting to escape and become something more than what you felt you were. The hard lesson that Lau wrote about was coming to terms with his own thinking patterns, taking the time to actively unlearn what he’d been told by society, and ultimately becoming a better, more well-rounded person because of it.
It seems like Bassam would have to do some of this introspection himself; he has rejected his culture, his heritage, and even his name, choosing to go by “Barry” in America. He marries into whiteness, has kids who can be accepted into whiteness, and for all anyone knows is a coded-white individual in American society with a medical practice. He was able to cross over just like how he wanted. However, he still carried fear and resentment of his own culture, and this resentment comes out either in outright rejection of Abuddin, violence, or wanting to take Abuddin from its roots and transplanting the centuries-old culture into something Bassam would find palatable while he’s interim President.
Bassam’s self hate manifested itself into a Western-centric dictatorship, promising to lead Abuddin from the ties of the past and into a more, supposedly “structurally-sound” future. But Bassam’s future is basically just installing what he believes to be Western-only ideals, like democracy and free elections. However, as Leila herself told him toward the end of the first season, he can’t truly believe that no one in the Middle East has never heard of democracy before he came back from America. In fact, there are several Middle Eastern countries who engage in democracy, so yes, democracy existed in the Middle East long before Bassam decided to showcase it as a newfangled approach. Bassam’s belief about democracy being only a Western thing is just one of the ways in which Bassam’s idolizing of America could be a character beat worth investigating, but it becomes increasingly problematic since it’s a white actor playing the character. What could be seen as a Middle Eastern character fetishizing America because of his own internal self-acceptance issues becomes American propaganda due to a white actor playing the role. In short, Bassam comes out look more like the “evangelized native” trope (which could also be considered a type of “Uncle Tom” trope) than a conflicted man trying to find acceptance in a new cultural (and even racial) identity.
The throughline of Bassam’s internalized racism was abjectly clear in his actions after Emma’s death, which pushed both him and his wife Molly over the edge into Islamophobia. Even when he’s lording over his own people in the country’s highest office, Bassam can’t shake the idea that the people—his people—aren’t a monolith. Instead, especially after the death of his daughter at the hands of terrorists, he decides to lump all of Abuddin and neighboring countries under the same “terrorist” label instead of trying to secure his people from terrorist acts due to a love of country and its people. The irony is that he acts just as much like a terrorist as the actual terrorists, and it stems from his own self-hate.
What is fascinating, though, is that Bassam’s discomfort with his culture seemed to abate a little bit after Jamal leaves him in the desert to die. During Season 2, Bassam is forced to come to terms with himself, his rejection of Islam, and the hurt of the people wasting away under Jamal’s regime. He picks up the habit of prayer again, gets back in touch with the common man when he’s a guest at Daliyah’s then-husband’s house, and eventually, becomes the leader of the rebellion. It was during this time that Bassam seemed to be the most at-home within himself. He was fighting for his people’s well-being, he was praying with them, and he was living for them. When Bassam acquires the presidency, though, his old self-hating habits come back, and he’s once again coding himself under whiteness, disassociating himself from the people he grew to love.
Bassam’s dis-ease with himself and his culture is something that should be analyzed and thought about upon any repeat viewings of the series. However, Bassam’s story could have been even more adeptly told if Bassam was played by a Middle Eastern actor from the beginning. A Middle Eastern actor could have brought his own experiences and the experiences of people he knows to the role of Bassam, making Bassam’s plight to self-acceptance even more truthful to real life. This kind of nuance would have spoken volumes, and it would have made Bassam possibly one of the few Middle Eastern characters on TV who is a fully-realized character.
However, having the role whitewashed takes away any truthfulness a viewer could parse from it. Currently, all Bassam ever became was a big “What if?” character. What if he was portrayed in more truthful manner? What if his storyline was fully fleshed-out from the beginning? What could Bassam had been if there was much more consideration given to his characterization and his motives, as well as how his culture affects him?
Possibly the best allegorical character for Bassam is Robert Downey Jr.’s character from 2008’s Tropic Thunder, Kirk Lazarus, which is somehow both an underrated and laser-precise skewering of Hollywood culture. Kirk is a white Australia actor, yet he’s known for “method acting,” including acting as a black man in the fictional Vietnam War-era metafilm in the movie. The most famous line from the film comes from Kirk, saying, “I’m a dude playing a dude disguised as another dude!” This is precisely who Bassam is. He’s a white British man playing a Middle Eastern man disguised as a white American man, who then decides to go back home to become a dictator of a people whom he doesn’t know. If Kirk Lazarus is supposed to be absurd on purpose, then Bassam is absurd unintentionally. Bassam is a character who shouldn’t have been given the Kirk Lazarus treatment.
What do you think about Bassam’s self-hate issues? How would you have written Bassam? Give your opinions in the comments section below!
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!
THERE ARE SPOILERS HERE, SO BE CAREFUL.
There were a LOT of deaths in just the first three episodes of Season 3 of Tyrant, right? So many that many fans are wondering if they were even necessary. The fandom has taken the death of Season 2 insta-fave Rami particularly hard, since Rami seemed like a great candidate for President, and he’s just a good guy who came from humble beginnings. I was bummed like the rest of the fans, but I’ve also talked with Keon Alexander, who played Rami, for the Entertainment Weekly community, and we discussed in-depth his process for getting into Rami’s head. It seemed he really enjoyed playing Rami, and because there was so much that could be mined from the character, I expected Rami to be around for several seasons, not just one season and two episodes of the next. SIGH.
Here’s what I wrote about Rami in this week’s Tyrant catch-up article, “‘Tyrant’ season 3 recap: Three episodes, four bombshell moments”:
“…Rami — poor, noble, kind-hearted Rami — had no one crying over him. POURQUOI??? WHY DID RAMI HAVE TO DIE?
I was still waiting on Rami to magically appear, laid up in a hospital with the outside world believing he was dead when he was only badly wounded, but such a scene never came. Instead, after Rami sacrificed himself to save Molly and Emma from the Caliphate ambush, we get one scene with the head of the military telling Bassam that Emma is kidnapped and Rami has died — and that’s it, really. No finding his body, no honorable burial, no nothing! I’m not the only one who’s upset; the Internet has been ablaze with fans and critics alike trying to figure out why Rami was killed. For what reason? What added stakes did it provide? Couldn’t Rami be a superhero and escape certain death just like Bassam? Rami’s certainly more honorable than Bassam! As Peach the starfish said in Finding Nemo, “Isn’t there another way? He’s just a boy!”
SIGH. I’ll be pouring some out for you, Rami. Rest in peace. Or better yet, maybe you’re alive in an alternate dimension, as the benevolent President of Abbudin.”
I was also particularly bummed about Nusrat. I realized after I had my latest Entertainment Weekly Community post published that I didn’t write enough on why I felt Nusrat’s death wasn’t warranted at all. First of all, Nusrat should be hailed as a hero for saving Abbudin from a despot. Rami told her the folks outside the palace did see her as such. So why kill her off, writers? Is it because she could have been Daliyah’s rival for the “Mother of the Revolution” title? Did Sibylla Deen simply want to leave, and there wasn’t a cleaner way to remove her character from the show? I want answers, and currently, I feel like Kanye West on Sway’s radio show.
Nusrat has been the most abused person on this show, starting with the very first episode. It seems especially cruel that she would be killed after everything she’s endured. Did her life mean nothing? I mean, I get a show is supposed to have tragedy, but is everything bad supposed to happen exclusively to one character? I think Nusrat should have gotten a break for once in her life. Like, after leaving the mental institution Bassam had ordered her to, she could have come out and continued to plan her revenge on the Al-Fayeed family. She would have become a great character due to her mission to avenge her family and unborn child. In a way, Nusrat’s death reminds me of Abbie’s death in that it didn’t really serve the story except to get rid of a character.
The next gut-wrenching moment for me was when dear Emma got killed. I was hoping for something to come of Emma’s character this season, because I wrote last season how she has been the most neglected character, despite being the one of the few characters who actually utilizes their common sense on a day-to-day basis. Emma’s desires are simple, but always ignored: She wants to live a normal life in California like she used to. Instead, her parents, her dad in particular, got her killed. I write in this week’s post that Emma’s death is on Bassam’s hands.
I forgot that there was another, more intimate reason as to why Bassam’s actions led to his daughter’s death. The only reason Ihab Rashid is trying to bring Bassam down right now is because Bassam killed Samira. Ihab wants to make Bassam pay. Which leads to the biggest question I have in these few episodes: WHY IN THE WORLD WOULD YOU RELEASE A MAN WHO WANTS TO DESTROY YOU?! Look, I get Bassam’s “forgiveness commission” in theory. But seriously, Bassam, you’re ruling an unstable land with tons of people who want the title of President. You’re going to start being soft-bellied now that you’re at the top?! Don’t be foolish, Bassam. Be ruthless like you’ve been in the past.
Anyways, you can read my full thoughts on these three episodes at the Entertainment Weekly Community!
It’s Tyrant season again! I’m already having to play catch-up (for those waiting on my Entertainment Weekly Community Blog recaps…just give me a second), but I thought that until I give my opinion the Season 3 opener, I’d jot some quick thoughts down about something that’s troubled me a long time; the popularity of one of my Tyrant articles, “Tyrant Season Two Quick Thoughts: Sex Scenes + an Ahmed Shout-Out.”
The article itself isn’t the problem. In the article, I use a quote from my EW Community recap for one of the Season 2 episodes. The quote focuses on how uncomfortable I was with the show giving us a sex scene between Leila and Jamal, a scene which seemed to be misogynistic and exoticizing at the same time.
Did we need to see the sex scene, though? I know I’m a prude about some things, but did that [sex] scene really illuminate any kind of character beats? Or was it another way to objectify Middle Eastern women (particularly since we mostly see Leila’s face, not both of their faces)? I leave that as an open-ended question, since having sex really had nothing to do with the conversation they had about Bassam’s death later on. It’s strange pillow talk, at any rate.
This article is consistently one of the top articles on my site. Usually, I’d be glad about an article doing well. But in this case, I’m a bit disturbed. Why, out of all of the articles I’ve written about Tyrant, and out of all of the articles I’ve written in general, is this the one that becomes popular?
You could say I’m over-thinking this and am blowing things out of proportion, but I’m of the mindset that this article is popular just because it’s about a Middle Eastern woman having sex on-screen.
The fetishizing of non-white women, in this case Middle Eastern women, is nothing new. It’s been used in movies and television over and over again. Increasingly, such fetishizing is being used in basic news narratives, particularly when it comes to hijabis; there’s usually a narrative of how “restrained” they are and how they need “saving,” so to speak, which is usually a Western and/or white feminist code for losing identity and becoming a product for someone else’s enjoyment, whether that means adhering to white feminist rhetoric or taking on some other, more sexual mantle. It would appear the same thing happens in Tyrant from time to time.
The scene I wrote about had camera angles that were specifically showing a male voyeristic view of Leila’s part in the sexual episode. It focuses primarily on her and her body, not Jamal’s. The blatant objectification of Leila in the throes of sex leaves me feeling uneasy. Here we have a character who is already saddled with the pressures of being an object for a monster of a man, a man she doesn’t love. We already focus heavily on how her expensive wardrobe is an extension of her glamourous prison of a palace. Is it then necessary to then show Leila a prisoner to the camera as well? Hasn’t Leila been exploited enough?
To that end, I’m not exactly sure who is reading the aforementioned article, and why they are reading it. Most of the traffic for that article comes from people specifically looking up “Tyrant” and “sex scene.” As to why someone would want to watch a sex scene between a prisoner (because that’s basically what Leila is) and a rapist (because that’s definitely what Jamal is) is beyond me. Thus, the only reason I can come up with is that there must be some fetishizers out there. I know I’m baiting the folks who look up “Tyrant” and “sex” by writing this article, since some of the same tags will be used to define this article. But hopefully, this article gives me back some of the ownership over the Tyrant conversation as it relates to sex and fetish. I felt like I needed to interrupt the cycle.
But, my view of why the article is popular could be absolutely wrong. What do you think about this? Give your opinions in the comments section below.
I’ve talked a lot about Tyrant on this site, as well as on my slice of the Entertainment Weekly Community. One of the biggest points of contention I’ve had is that the main character, Bassam/Barry, is played by a white British actor, Adam Rayner. Tyrant is a show completely about the Middle East and Middle Eastern characters. Seeing how actors of Middle Eastern descent have to face tons of stereotyping and marginalization in Hollywood to get meaningful roles (roles that aren’t terrorists), and how young Bassam is actually played by young actors of Middle Eastern descent despite Rayner playing adult Bassam, I’ve not only called the show out on its casting of the main character, but have personally wondered how Rayner felt about it. Well, he’s spoken about this and more in his interview with Cigar Aficionado.
“My main research was reading about the region…I’m not playing someone who was fully culturally an Arab man—to him, this world has become alien,” he told the magazine. “Still, I was learning about Bedouin and Arab culture, the history and politics, as well as the current political climate, trying to gain an understanding and knowledge that Bassam would have grown up with.”
Howard Gordon, the executive producer of Tyrant (along with other Middle Eastern-based—and contentious—shows 24 and Homeland), said of Rayner, “Obviously it’s a challenge for someone with no experience of the Middle East to play someone from there. Adam has been up to it.”
Let me analyze these points for just a second. These are my thoughts, not the thoughts of Cigar Aficionado. First, let me say the comments in the article are very enlightening. But I do have some stuff to say after watching two seasons of Tyrant.
I’ve always felt that a person of Middle Eastern background should have been awarded this role and a person such as that would kill this role. Why? Because they’d have a lot more tacit knowledge to work with and they wouldn’t have to do the research, as it were, to play another culture and another race. Or, let me look at it from the point of view of a Bassam; why not cast an American of Middle Eastern descent (or a Brit of Middle Eastern descent, or anyone else), someone who is removed from the day-to-day life of the Middle East, but, like Bassam, has a link to their culture and a curiosity to learn more. Either way, whether you go with an actor from the Middle East or an actor of Middle Eastern descent, you have a much more realistic portrayal of Bassam.
However, I’ll give Rayner credit for finding his way into Bassam’s point of view. To me, Rayner’s Bassam hints at something unsavory that seems to be true to the character; Bassam has a large level of self-hate. Not just for his own actions, but for his culture. Sure, he comes from a line of despots. But he can’t separate the actions of his family from the overall culture of his home and the citizens that make up his home. He strikes me just as what he looks like; a Middle Eastern man who passes for white so he can get the benefits of living in America, and who lives in America so long that he removes himself from his home, his former identity, and his former actions. But, with Rayner’s Bassam taking this tone, there are new questions. Is this the tone the creator(s) wanted for Bassam in the first place? Does this tone make him less sympathetic? Would critics like me even see this side of Bassam if he was cast using an actual Middle Eastern actor (because Middle Eastern people come in all shades)? I don’t know. Such is the case with a complicated scenario of Rayner as Bassam.
The only thing I can say is that at least the production and Rayner himself seem to be aware of the issues involved. But, if the production was aware of this to begin with, why go with a non-Middle Eastern actor? An actor, I must also point out, who is someone no one in the U.S. had heard of before?
I bring this up because production teams always like say that they’re looking for “star power.” That argument has been made over and over for choosing white actors over Asian actors, and it was just used again when discussing who could play Rumi. The erroneous thought process is that they want someone with star wattage attached to their name, so they pick a white actor. However, Rayner was not a star here in the U.S.; British folks would have to fill me in on if he was a star in in the U.K. The same can be said for someone like Tom Mison, who I’m sure would be the first to say (and has said in so many words) that he’s not the sole star of Sleepy Hollow despite him having the caché of being a white Briton; Nicole Beharie, who has acted in high caliber films such as 42 and Shame, and has more star wattage because of it, is the star, and therefore the leader (or should have been if there didn’t seem to be a conspiracy to make Sleepy Hollow another iteration of Dr. Who).
The point is this: if a white actor who is looking for his big break can be given his chance by playing a Middle Eastern character, why couldn’t a Middle Eastern actor (or actor of Middle Eastern descent) who is looking for his big break be afforded the same, especially in a role reflective of his ethnicity? Again, there are a lot of questions that could have been nullified if the complications from casting were taking care of from the beginning. Again, such is the case with a complicated scenario of Rayner as Bassam.
Make no mistake; I’m not faulting Rayner or saying he’s a bad actor. In fact, most of the actors who get cast as roles outside of their ethnicity/race aren’t bad actors. It’s just there’s a can of worms Hollywood always has to open when it comes to who gets cast as whom.
All right, now that that’s out of the way, check out some of the other tidbits from the article (which is, in all fairness, a really good article):
Eric Schrier, FX Networks president of original programming, on filming in a war zone: “We try to take big swings. A show set in the Middle East? That’s a big swing…Let’s say this show had its challenges, production-wise, that first season. I mean, they were shooting rockets.”
Gwyneth Horder-Payton, co-executive producer, on the challenges of shooting scenes set in a mosque: “We built the set and hired extras of Arab descent. When Barry [Rayner’s character] walked into the middle of the service, they were upset because they said this would never happen in a mosque—it would never be allowed. Plus, here I am, a woman, in the mosque. Also not allowed. And I’m wearing shoes, because I’m going back and forth outside…Also not allowed. And they were serious, even though it was a set we’d built and not a real mosque.”
On the similarities between Rayner’s character and Syria dictator Bashar al-Assad: “The parallels to Assad are obvious. The old-style dictator father, the son who’s been trained in the West. Still, it’s important to say that this isn’t a show about one country. That would prevent us from dealing with issues that are more common region-wide.”
On the dethroning of dictators like Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi: “How do you rule over a democracy when you’ve got a gun to your head? One easy way to solve the problem is to get a gun to the other guy’s head. It solves the problem—but it’s not democracy…How do you create security for the country without compromising those democratic principles? Democracy requires a lot of preparation, with elections after you’ve educated the people. But how long will that take? And who’s in charge in the meantime? It’s not as simple as, well, we got rid of Hussein or Qaddafi and now we’ll have democracy.”
On being compared to Abraham Lincoln: “When you’re playing a president or a dictator, it’s a time-honored cliché that a beard bestows authority on a man- or that’s my hope, anyway. People on the show have started calling me Abe Lincoln, which is an interesting comparison. I’m not quite sure if it’s a compliment or not.”
On the significance of cigars in Tyrant: “They’re considered quite a Western symbol, associated with the power and wealth, smoked by the Tony Sopranos of the world.”
On authoritarianism and building democracy: “Because to build the democratic process, first you have to delay the democratic process—and that’s an authoritarian government.”
Read the entirety of the Tyrant interview with Cigar Aficionado (including quotes from Moran Atias, who plays Leila Al-Fayeed) in this month’s issue, on sale now (the full cover is below). Tyrant, in its third season, comes back at 10/9c July 6 on FX.