Decision expected soon on turning Iranian-American memoir into TV series
Within the next few weeks, the author should hear whether the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) will order production to begin on a TV series based on her memoir of growing up Iranian in the United States. "I've seen the pilot. It is absolutely hilarious," Dumas said. The question is whether the president of ABC will agree - and whether he thinks it is time "to have a show on a major network in the United States featuring a likeable Iranian family," Dumas said.
Funny in Farsi is competing with other proposed series for one of the few available slots in the network's prime-time schedule.
Dumas is somewhat hopeful, in part because she is so pleased with what has happened with her best-selling book since she turned it over to television. Before she gave her final approval to the deal that sold ABC the option of producing a show, she said, she was able to meet with the husband-and-wife writing team who adapted her book for the screen: Jeffrey B. Hodes and Nastaran Dibai. (Dibai is Iranian American too.) Dumas said that she is very close to the writers and that they caught the spirit of her stories.
She's also very happy with the others involved. The pilot - the television industry's term for a sample show - was directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, whose movies include Men in Black and Get Shorty. It stars Maz Jobrani as the engineer who brings his family to the United States and Marjan Neshat as his wife, who has trouble adapting to her new country. Both actors are familiar to Iranian-American audiences - Jobrani as a stand-up comic - but neither is a household name in the United States. The cast also includes two Armenian actors. "It's a very brown cast," Dumas said. "The faces are not well-known. They made an effort to get the right actors for this show."
Dumas's book about her family and its adventures with life in California has been successful in the United States, and "the Persian version of Funny in Farsi is one of the best-selling books in Iran," Dumas said. A television version would be assured of a big audience there, she said: "It would be the most wonderful cultural bridge if this could happen."
Cultural bridges are what Dumas's career has been about. "When we came to the United States in 1972, we encountered a lot of ignorance [about Iran], but it was benevolent ignorance," she said.
Now, she said, she travels throughout the United States and speaks at colleges and universities to audiences that still might not know much about Iran but "clearly want to learn more."
"I think that for the bridges I have built, and that teachers have built using my book, it all adds up," she said.
Dumas knows that American television has never had a successful series centered on characters from the Middle East. But Iranians and others from the Middle East, who remain a small minority in a diverse country, are not the only audience she would expect for Funny in Farsi on television, just as they have not been the main audience for her books.
One development had Dumas distressed as she awaited the decision on the television series: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's latest visit to the United States coincided with ABC's deliberations. "Every time Ahmadinejad says something stupid," she said, the chances of the show being made probably go down.
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