While Other Networks Keep Punting on Programs about Middle Eastern Culture, Netflix Orders ‘Jinn,’ its First Arabic Original Series
Where are the shows about brown people that we were promised?
The show Reza Aslan sold to ABC about an Iranian-American family’s immigration to Oklahoma was dropped by the network after Donald Trump’s election. Larry Wilmore and Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef sold another show to ABC about Middle Eastern superheroes last year, but there haven’t really been any updates on that since October. And while Freeform (making time in their busy bisexual-activist-mermaid schedule) is working on what it calls an “adventure story” about young Cleopatra, it’s also making sure to describe the show as “a love story about a young woman caught between two men, the fierce General Julius Caesar and his protégé, the young, rebellious Centurion Marc Antony,” and yeah, I’m not so interested in that? Cleopatra being a badass rebel on her way to ruling Egypt, yes. Her problematic love life, eh, not so much.
So let us heap blessings upon Netflix yet again for filling the void: The streaming service announced yesterday its first Arabic original series, Jinn. Let’s look at the press release, which makes some things very clear:
The series will feature Middle Eastern talent, and be filmed in Jordan later this year.
Great! A show about Middle Eastern people should cast Middle Eastern actors! And a show set in the Middle East should be filmed in the Middle East!
A group of teenagers’ lives are disrupted when a Jinn in the form of a teenage boy appears to them in the ancient city of Petra. Their friendships and young romances are tested when they set out to stop an even greater darkness that is threatening to destroy the world. Can they come together in time, and find the answers needed, in order to save everything?
OK! So kind of like Stranger Things, but with a fantastical element that is rooted in spooky Middle Eastern stories! Cool cool cool!
And finally, this quote from Jordanian screenwriter Bassel Ghandour (who previously worked on the Oscar-nominated film Theeb), who will partner with Lebanese director Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya (pictured above, after winning the Jury Grand Prize Award for his film Very Big Shot at the 2015 Marrakesh International Film Festival) for the project:
“We are really excited about this. It is very common in the Middle East that people know someone who has a Jinn story, so it’s nice to take that and turn it into a fun and mysterious teen adventure that everyone can enjoy. On a broader note, I love that Netflix is investing a lot in the region, it’s a real turning point. We have such a rich storytelling culture, and we’ll finally be able to enjoy Arabic content with Netflix quality.”
“Jinns” are basically malevolent genies or spirits (more monstrous than the Robin Williams take on that supernatural creature, and I’m guessing than Will Smith’s, too), and Ghandour isn’t wrong that many Middle Eastern cultures have their own creepy spins on the character, which has roots in pre-Islamic folk tales. I remember my Iranian parents telling me scary stories about jinns when I was a kid (although there is a more light-hearted old wives’ tale about how if you clip your nails at night, a jinn will come for you), and if you want to get an idea of what you may be in for with Jinn, check out the Iranian horror film Under the Shadow, which is also available on Netflix. Here, watch a trailer!
Jinn will debut on Netflix in 2019. After I stop having nightmares about Under the Shadow, count me in.