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Beverly Hills TV Gets an Iranian (well, sort of)


Source: Iran Times


A new television series reviving the hit show "Beverly Hills 90210" will premier in September, but this version will feature an Iranian student-and that student will be played by an actor of Ecuadorian, Norwegian and Austrian descent.



The popular show premiered on the Fox network nearly two decades ago, but many locals pointed out the show did not reflect the reality of Beverly Hills High School; that school is both predominantly Jewish and heavily Iranian.


While the original show included two Jewish characters, the show remained far from an actual representation of the school and featured no Iranian students at all.  Show biz professionals responded hat the TV series wasn't meant to be a documentary.  The zip code used in the title isn't even the school's real zip code.


But the new version of the show, which will premier on the CW network September 2, has tried to more accurately reflect the demography of Beverly Hills High and has included an Iranian student, Navid Shirazi, played by Michael Steger.


Popular culture critic Josh Kun, an associate professor at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication, noted that television is never-nor should it be-a realistic take on life. "Part of the fun of '90210' is watching a show that's obviously about fantasy," he said. "TV is never about realism. It's about playing reality to the choir of fantasy."


Shirley Eshaghian, a 21-year-old Iranian Jew who is eagerly anticipating the season premier, said she is particularly interested in seeing how the series portrays Navid Shirazi, who runs the school's student TV station. "I just hope that they don't play on stereotypes," she said. "I hope people can maybe see into the culture."


Even with the addition of the Iranian character, "90210" is still far more fiction than reality.  In fact, the real Beverly Hills High is in the 90212 zip code. 


Whether an Ecuadorian-Norwegian-Austrian can get inside an Iranian's skin remains to be seen.  The producers of "House of Sand and Fog" specifically looked for an Iranian woman to play the lead female role-thereby launching Shohreh Aghdashloo's second career.  But casting actors to portray characters of different cultural and/or religious backgrounds is actually the norm.


In fact, according to Gabrielle Carteris, a Jewish actress who portrayed a Jewish character on the original "Beverly Hills 90210"-the brainy Andrea Zuckerman-the show's producers had no idea she was Jewish when they hired her to portray the school newspaper editor from the wrong side of the tracks.


When Carteris, who is now in her 40s, showed up on the set wearing a Star of David around her neck, the network honchos objected. They called her into their office, she said, and asked her to remove the Jewish symbol. "The executives said that 'Middle America' really doesn't want to see it," Carteris said in an interview with the Forward. "'Middle America' is a phrase that is always used in this industry. I want to know, who is this 'Middle America'?"


Carteris, who is a member of Temple Beth Hillel-a Reform synagogue in Valley Village, California-refused to take off the Star of David unless the other cast members were also required to remove their crosses; the executives responded by prohibiting any of the cast members from wearing religious jewelry on the set.


But Amy Spies, the executive story editor of the original "Beverly Hills 90210, said that times have changed since she worked on the show in the 1990s.


"Because of cable, there's been all kinds of diverse, ethnic shows," said Spies, citing "The Sopranos" as an example. "It's much more the norm to have more accurate representations of their world."


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