Narrative Series – 30 minutes – historical fiction – anthology
Each season, this anthology series follows a different household or community through a different year, re-telling contemporary American history through the eyes of it’s people.
It’s 1979, and the Shirazi family has been in the US for decades. Friendly neighbors, involved at school, they have accents, but no one knows exactly where Iran is. They become famous overnight when the Iran Hostage Crisis hits. Unfortunately, it’s not the good kind of famous.
This series is an anthology, and each season follows a different household or community through a different year, re-telling contemporary American history through the eyes of the different cultural and socio-economic groups that make up our country. Examples for future seasons are “America 1980” about the draft reinstatement, and “America 1981” about the AIDS epidemic.
The first season, “America 1979,” is a thirty-minute comedy ensemble like Amazon’s “Transparent.” It strays from conventional structure to achieve a realistic feel like FX’s “Better Things,” or “Atlanta,” and it takes place within a historical context like AMC’s “Mad Men.” The comedy is in visual details, characters idiosyncrasies, and the nuances of the physical performance.
“America 1979” takes you inside an Iranian American home. Roya loves fashion, her son, Bobby, is getting into punk music, and her daughter, Regina, is a troublemaker. Her husband, Bijan, broods. He has reason to. Discrimination chased him out of his job. It is 1979, and the Iran Hostage Crisis is in full effect.
In 1979, political revolutionaries took fifty-two hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran. Perceptions of Iranians living in the U.S. changed from melting-pot immigrant to terrorist overnight. The Crisis set the tone for the Islamophobia and xenophobia against Middle Eastern people we see today.
In the pilot, Grandma Fariba is visiting from Iran for the first time. As much as they try, the Shirazi family cannot stay on their best behavior. Bobby tries to lose Regina in the airport. Regina makes a fool of Fariba in front of the neighbors. Bijan throws Roya under the bus to shield himself from his mother’s infamous rath. And Bobby flirts with wearing makeup instead of the girl next door. When tragedy strikes in Iran, it is questionable when – and if – Fariba will be able to return home.
Over the course of the season, the Shirazi family balances their need for growth within a cultural construct where traditional roles are a given. Bijan gets fired by his patriotic boss, Roya learns about the women’s liberation movement and gets a job; Bobby explores his sexuality and Regina puts up with bullies at school. Fariba is unable to return to Iran, and she takes on the matriarch role while Roya is at work. All the while, their Iranian culture swirls overhead making for culture clashes, misunderstandings, and moments of bright clarity and love.
With the Iran Hostage Crisis hanging over them, The Shirazi’s formerly benign outside world has become questionable. Which of their friends and neighbors will believe the terrorist hype?
The first season of this anthology series is based on “America 1979,” a short film that I wrote and directed about my Iranian American heritage. The dramatic short received several grants, was an official selection at over twenty festivals and markets. The pilot has quarterfinaled at Cinequest, Stage 32 TV Writers Competition, and WeScreenplay Diverse Voices.
I want to use the power of character and storytelling to bring viewers into critical moments in contemporary history and to experience how certain events and decisions have shaped the under-represented people of the United States.
My original interest in turning “America 1979” into a series was to push the envelope on the diversity trend that we are experiencing in media today. If American audiences are ready for “Fresh off the Boat,” perhaps they might be ready for “America 1979,” a series about an Iranian-American family set during the Iran Hostage Crisis. While exhibiting my eponymous short film at festivals, I learned that general audiences didn’t know what the Iran Hostage Crisis was unless they were cognizant when it happened. How could a historical event that affected me and my family so profoundly go under the radar? What other events are forgotten that have shaped thousands of people’s lives?
I turned to sources such as Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States and started digging through contemporary American history. My imagination went wild thinking about what it would be like to bring to life other underrepresented or misrepresented stories with the kind of detail that “America 1979” is told with. I learned about the uprising in South Korea that brought many immigrants to the United States, the air traffic controller strike, and the moment when Reagan cut disability benefits for 400,000 Americans, among many others. These stories could be different seasons of an anthology series. Each season would require a new room of experts and writers with personal connections to the cultures and events so we could create an authentic portrayal of the time, the culture, the people, the events, and the attitudes, similar to what Bazz Luhrmann does for “The Get Down” and Jill Soloway does for “Transparent.”
This anthology series could spark viewers curiosity about the people around them. It could help inform attitudes and increase empathy. And in a post 2016 election world, where the under-represented are targets, we need more programming that makes it clear that we are all part of the American experience.