By Heather Maher, RFE/RL
Ask many Americans what they think of when they think of Iran, and they'll probably mention the 1979-81 hostage crisis in Tehran or a turbaned, white-bearded cleric preaching anger toward the United States. A new U.S. television reality show set in Los Angeles wants to replace those grim associations with happier ones, like expensive cars, champagne, private jets, and mansions.
A screengrab of Bravo TV's "Shahs of Sunset"
"Shahs of Sunset," named after the city's iconic Sunset Boulevard, tracks the daily, and nightly, dramas of six wealthy, 30-something Iranian Americans whose parents fled Iran after the 1979 revolution ushered in theocracy.
The cable TV show follows in the ratings-tested footsteps of other successful American reality shows, like "Jersey Shore," with its young, hard-drinking, hypersexual Italian Americans, and "Real Housewives," which follows fabulously rich women on their shopping sprees and five-Martini lunches.
The show's creators describe it this way: "A group of friends...who are fervent on the dating and party scene, but seeking approval from their family, face pressures to settle down and marry within the community. From outings on Rodeo Drive to traditional Persian feasts at home, this series celebrates the unique lifestyle of a group of friends who have worked hard for what they have and are not afraid to flaunt it."
'Charge It To My Daddy!'
The spitfire of the show is Golnesa "GG" Gharachedaghi, described in her cast bio as "an exotic beauty with a fiery temper. This classic 'Persian Princess' goes out to lunch with her friends during the day and shops for Mr. Persian Right at night."
She's spoiled, supported by her rich father, and fond of telling shopkeepers, "Charge it to my daddy!"
Mike Shouhed "is part of the self-appointed 'Persian Real Estate Mafia' in Los Angeles" who still lives at home and is looking for a woman "he can bring home to his mother."
Reza Farahan is described as "one of few openly gay Persians in the community [who] often struggles with gossip and prejudice regarding his sexuality."
Mercedes "MJ" Javid is a party girl whose bio says is "constantly disappointing her overbearing and unconventional Persian mother."
WATCH: A promotional trailer for the "Shahs of Sunset" reality TV show
Only one episode has aired, but clips on its website show the six friends partying, arguing, shopping, and drinking as they poke fun at Los Angeles' Persian community and brag about their wealth.
At one point in the show, MJ boasts that "only Persians will have a pool party with a tiger in the cage."
"That's how we roll," she says. "We need a tiger at pool parties, hey."
Reza counters: "You know the way I normally do a party at home. I've got caterers, bartenders; you name it, I've got it. That's how I roll for my parties."
If you're running late, you're on "Persian time." If you fly commercial airlines instead of private jets, they "feel sorry" for you. And if you're not attractive, they don't want you around. "I hate ants and I hate ugly people," GG tells the camera.
Cast of the "Shahs of Sunset"
(L-R) Reza Farahan, Asa Soltan Rahmati, Mike Shouhed, Sammy Younai, Mercedeh "MJ" Javid, Golnesa "GG" Gharachedaghi / Photo: Tommy Garcia/Bravo
Who wouldn't want to spend an hour watching these people every week?
Other Iranian-Americans, for starters.
Even before the show officially debuted on March 18, an anti-"Shahs of Sunset" Facebook page had been set up and anti-Shah petitions were circulating online, accusing the producers of promoting racial stereotypes and depicting Iranian Americans as caricatures.
One urged people to "help the Persian community by signing this petition to end 'Shahs of Sunset' and other such racist, exploiting television programming."
A signatory wrote: "This show wants to present caricatures of Iranian-Americans. This is not entertaining. Rather, it is racist and only encourages others who do not know Persians in our American society to feed into the worst kind of stereotype."
Another wrote, "Due to the current political climate between the United States and factions in the Middle East, I cannot see the benefit of this show."It's not just Iranian-Americans who are upset.
Bravo's Shahs of Sunset (PSA) A Real Iranian American
One Iranian American's response to Bravo's new show, "Shah's of Sunset"
A petition on the Change.org website has attracted almost 800 signatures, and the list contains a good number of non-Persian names.
"I am not Iranian or Iranian-American but I have only had positive experiences meeting and knowing Iranians and Iranian-Americans," one person wrote. "There is no good reason to single out these people for negative publicity. I am disappointed and embarrassed that something so negatively biased will be aired."
Another wrote: "I am not Persian but I still do not agree with this show. I think we need to learn to respect others and other cultures."
Queens of Sunrise (Shahs of Sunset Parody)
Written, directed, and edited by Arash Tebbi
The public anger prompted cast member Mike Shouhed to recently tell a reporter that the critics are just "jealous."
In the show's defense, he said, "All we are doing is hanging out and being ourselves. People are intrigued to learn more about our culture instead of automatically associating us with negative portrayals like terrorism. It humanizes us in a way."
Copyright (c) 2012 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
Meet Bravo's "Shahs of Sunset"
Biography of the cast of the "Shahs of Sunset":
Source: Ryan Seacrest Productions
Photos by Tommy Garcia/Bravo
Reza Farahan | @RezaFarahan
Born in Tehran, Iran, and raised in Beverly Hills, Reza is a 38 year old prominent player in the Los Angeles real estate world. Best friends since high school, Reza and MJ love to party, drink champagne and spend money on designer names. He is one of few openly gay Persians in the community and often struggles with gossip and prejudice regarding his sexuality. Reza’s family supports him in spite of the pressure they feel to ostracize him. Despite his untraditional style, Reza is an old fashioned guy at heart who wants a partner, a family, and the American White Picket Fence happy ending, but he is going to have to get past the baggage he carries from his upbringing to achieve it.
Asa Soltan Rahmati | @ASAjoon
Asa is a controversial singer/artist who prides herself on living the “Modern Persian gypsy bohemian lifestyle” and is prominent in the Venice artist scene. A refugee who fled Iran as a young girl Asa grew up in Europe before moving to Los Angeles as a teenager. The sassy 35 year old is often considered an outsider in the group doing whatever she wants, whenever she wants including dating outside her race and religion. With little desire to settle down any time soon, Asa’s main priority in life is staying true to herself and her career.
Sammy is a residential developer in Beverly Hills specializing in building multi-million dollar homes specifically for the Persian community. Constantly working to make a deal, Sammy feels the pressure from his family and culture to be wildly successful in his career. The 35 year old loves to spend his money and is often the first one to buy bottle service at one of LA’s hottest clubs. Sammy is a “ladies man” and is always on the prowl for his next fling, but recently began debating if it’s time to find the right Persian girl who appreciates what’s in his heart and not in his wallet.
Mike Shouhed | @MikeShouhed
Mike is part of the self-appointed “Persian Real Estate Mafia” in Los Angles. After being a high roller in the Vegas commercial real estate market, Mike lost his shirt in the crash and has moved back home to rebuild. The 33 year old reformed player has the best of intentions, but old habits are hard to break and Mike can’t seem to stop charming every girl in the room. His friends joke he’s looking for “the one” every night at the club, but ultimately he is looking for a woman he can bring home to his mother.
Golnesa “GG” Gharachedaghi | @GolnesaGG
GG is an exotic beauty with a fiery temper and very little filter. Fully supported by her father, this classic “Persian Princess,” goes out to lunch with her friends during the day and shops for Mr. Persian Right at night. More than ready to start a family, GG is definitely looking to settle down, but the 29 year old is having a hard time finding a man that can support the lavish lifestyle and handle her unapologetic personality.
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