Reel Talk: Shahs of Sunset Break Stereotypes

 

I make music for people like myself. It’s like a cosmopolitan being of the world, refugees, immigrants, people who have two cultures in them.” -Asa Soltan Rahmati

 

In a world of Trump bans, GMOs, global warming, human trafficking, and other horrors sometimes it is necessary to log off and indulge in some mindless reality television. Why not indulge in something extra spicy and try Bravo’s Shah’s of Sunset. Yes, named after Iran’s last Shah, the great Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, this show follows young Iranian friends living in Los Angeles. Peppered with the drama of all great reality shows, Shahs is revolutionary in that it takes on pop culture, but hasn’t diluted the culture part. Young, modern, Mercedes Benz driving, Farsi speaking, saffron rice eating; Shahs showcases the diaspora culture and what happens when you allow immigrants to thrive.

Iranians, the real way

Negative energy follows Iranians. The stereotypes, Islamophobia, Iranophobia, and Middle-Easternophobia, basically Iranians are clouded in some sort of “phobia.”  Shahs of Sunset, a reality show on Bravo, highlights Iranian friends caught in the diaspora now living in sunny Los Angeles, California. The metropolitan city with its high density of Persian refugees is jokingly referred to as Tehrangeles to poke fun at the fact that so many Iranians live there. The show is fun and brazen, showcasing Iranians doing everyday things. No one is planning jihad, just the next party. Gold, perfume, banging wardrobes, drinks, and food are all high priorities of these modern Shahs, nothing sinister.

Note: Even using the world jihad here is deceitful. Many people think that jihad is the Muslim call to arms requiring a bomb being strapped to you. WRONG. Jihad, as most Muslims interpret it, is an inner spiritual struggle or battle. Like, say the inner battle against an addiction or a bad habit. Example: “My jihad was against doughnuts.”

Body Positive

Ass, ass, ass, ass. Everyone today seems to be endowed with a large ass and C cups. Unlike many reality television shows that celebrate ultra skinny bodies and unhealthy lifestyles, this reality show is incredibly body positive. While the Kardashians get credit for showcasing alternative body types, they are increasingly unrealistic. Stick skinny legs with a large derriere, topped with a flat and toned stomach, large breasts, and skinny arms is only normal in a rap video. The female characters on Shahs are all different, but typically they are the examples of real Persian women. Hips, ass, thick legs, body hair, and fierce attitudes. Mercedes Javid (MJ) and Asa Soltan are two of the shows main female characters and have fantastic bodies that are representative of the ‘average’ Persian girl. Not that ‘average’ should ever be used when describing Persians 😉

Farsi, Farsi, and more Farsi

Arabic, Arabia, Arabs, ara ayyy ay ay ay. Many people believe that Arabic is the language of the Middle East and that all peoples speak Arabic. NOPE. Arabic is the language of the holy Qu’ran, and many Muslim peoples do speak Arabic, but this is not the sole language spoken in Iran or anywhere in the region. The vast region stretching from North Africa to West Asia, colloquially referred to as the Middle East, is home to many races, religions, languages, and cultures. The cast is frequently speaking Farsi to each other and to their families showing the deep connection between language and culture. Many family members on the show have deep accents, and switch between Arabic and Farsi, which is normal for first generation immigrants. How beautiful is it to realize that each and every family has their own immigration story, no matter how recent or how ancient? As the Shahs say before clinking glasses, به سلامتی/salamati/cheers!

Religious diversity of Iran

Muslims do dominate the Middle East, but Iran is home to three of  the Abrahamic religions and has had religious diversity since, well, since Jesus and Muhammad themselves! While in fact Indonesia is home to the world’s largest population of Muslims, not Saudi Arabia or Iran, the region none the less gets labeled as being all Muslim. Another relevant element of this show is that the Shahs are Muslim and Jewish, which opens up dialogue about what a religion-diverse region can and should look like in a peaceful world. For thousands of years, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim families inhabited this hostile region and flourished in many ways. Today, through the lens of Bravo, we see friends caught in the diaspora, thousands of miles away from home, united not by their religion, but by their common culture. These modern Shahs make you realize that we all have far more similarities than differences.

We are all Immigrants 

The topic of refugees and immigration status is alarmingly a hot topic of conversation in 2017.  In season 3, the Shahs opened up about their relations with their homeland and took a trip to Turkey to accompany Asa to her family reunion. The episodes surrounding this pilgrimage were high energy and showed those who are not close to the refugee experience the painful side of being caught in two places. Many of the Shahs are refugees and cannot go back home to Iran for political reasons. The frustration comes to a climax as we see the Shahs on the Turkey/Iran boarder crying, screaming, and breaking down as they look onto their Persia without them. Holding two cultures simultaneously is a constant battle that the characters face and one that the viewer gets to be involved in. They are 100% Persian, but very American, and the great thing about life is that it is okay to be both.

Rainbow Iran?

Even Iranians themselves fail to understand the range of sexual diversity that exists within its people at home and afar. Shahs of Sunset displays the rainbow of diversity that all Persians poses within them. Reza, the show’s main character, named after the last Shah of Iran, is the star of the show and a member of the LGBTQ community. This is amazing because not only is he the show’s main character but he is a gay main character. This powerful exposure for the LGBTQ community, but also for the gay and lesbian Persian community. While it is hard to ‘come out’ in all cultures, it is especially hard to ‘come out’ when you are Persian. While advanced in some ways, human sexuality is not exactly a specialty … like say nuclear weapons. Unfortunately. Rainbow Iran, maybe not yet.

Girl Power

Another stereotype of Middle Eastern women is that they are passive and subservient to men. This is a difficult stereotype to break, and the media has not helped the case. Shahs celebrates women that are creative, resilient, smart, talented, and bad ass. They are strong willed and won’t back down to challenges in life. Mercedes ‘MJ’ Javid is a real estate agent, Asa Soltan is an singer, entrepreneur, and artist, GG is also an entrepreneur and outspoken advocate of RA (rheumatoid arthritis). What is great is that these are women that young Persians can look up to for inspiration.

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