Tag Archives: FX

Monique Talks “Tyrant” Deaths on Entertainment Weekly Community Blog

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.”

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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.

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giphy (39)

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.

Tyrant-S3-Emma

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!

“Tyrant”: Why Do People Love That “Sex” Article So Much?

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.”

“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.

“Tyrant”: Adam Rayner on Bassam Al-Fayeed in Cigar Aficionado

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.

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Monique Discusses “Tyrant” Season 3 on the EW Community

I’m so glad that Tyrant was renewed for a third season! Last season was an amazing ride, with well-written story arcs, compelling characterization, and scary action sequences. Because of what happened last season, I have some very high hopes for next season. Five of them I outlined in my Entertainment Weekly Community post, “5 Things That Must Happen in “Tyrant” Season 3.”

"Tyrant" Season 2 Quick Thoughts: My Conversation with Cameron Gharaee + How I'd Run Season 3

What did we think about the Tyrant Season 2 finale? I am happy to say that I loved it. I took a look at some of what Variety has to say about it, which is that the series was in danger of reverting back to some bad writing habits, but I’d say that if the finale did revert back into some bad habits, it was a risk the series had to take in order to provide a clean break and a platform for a brand new Tyrant come Season 3. 

The Next Omar Sharif: Why Finding the Next Middle Eastern Hollywood Star is Easier Than We Think

Omar Sharif in "Doctor Zhivago." (Screengrab)
Omar Sharif in “Doctor Zhivago.” (Screengrab)

This article has been a long time in the making, mostly because it’s hard for one person who has several jobs out outside of maintaining a site to keep with and write articles about prominent news stories. But I do my best, and this particular issue has been on my radar for a while thanks to my constant reading of The Hollywood Reporter.