The FX drama “Tyrant” has drawn heat from some critics for trading in stereotypes about the Middle East.
FX tried to prove otherwise at its panel for the show, about a doctor in America who travels home to the Mideast for a family wedding and gets drawn into political turmoil, Monday at the Television Critics Association. Showrunner Howard Gordon was paired with a group of Arab and Arab-American representatives who’ve helped ensure that “Tyrant” presents positive — or at least honest — portrayals of the Middle East.
Ramy Yaacoub, assistant director of the Tahrir Institute of Middle East Policy, admitted that there was trepidation when going into the process of reviewing the pilot for inaccuracies.
“We were very concerned, honestly, walking into this experience,” Yaacoub recalled. After speaking with the makers of the show, however, Yaacoub noted, “My experience was it was much better than expected … there was some tweaking needed, there were some problems with the show, but that doesn’t mean that the entirety of the show is off-balance.”
Elsewhere during the panel, Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said that “Tyrant” has an opportunity to portray Middle Easterners in a positive light by focusing on the citizens who are struggling against tyranny.
“If this show that deals with tyranny, if it can humanize the people’s struggle with this tyrant, in the end the end it will be good,” Al-Marayati said. “The story of dealing with tyranny has never been told. The problem is, tyrants, the way we view them in America is as a product of culture and religion, but it’s beyond that, it’s much deeper than that.”
Al-Marayati added that “Tyrant’s” plotline offers a unique chance to portray “how people are going to deal with that struggle, and how religion can play a a positive role, how culture can play a positive role.”
The panel also addressed one of the more controversial moments from the “Tyrant” pilot, when the titular despot, Jamal Al Fayeed, rapes his daughter-in-law on her wedding night.
Admitting that there was reservation about including the scene — “it was out and in and out and in over a number of cuts” — Gordon insisted that the sexual assault wasn’t used gratuitously, and that it will lead to a greater purpose, along with apparent comeuppance for Jamal.
“That trauma is not minimized or dismissed or used as an attempt to sensationalize a gross action,” Gordon said. “Let’s just say the chickens come home to roost and that character is destiny.”