The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) was thrilled to bring together partners from across the fields of advocacy, policy, and mass media for a panel discussion and advanced screening of the upcoming FX series Tyrant. TIMEP sponsored this event in conjunction with FX, Fox21, Muslims on Screen and Television (MOST), and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). The panel featured a discussion with TIMEP Deputy Director Mr. Ramy Yaacoub and Mr. Glen Gordon Caron, Executive Producer, writer, and director of Tyrant. Ambassador Cynthia Schneider, Co-Director of MOST moderated the discussion.
The night began with a reception held at the MPAA in the heart of Washington D.C. Guests were invited for an advanced screening of the first episode of Tyrant, which will air on June 24, 2014. Tyrant tells the fictional story of an unassuming American family drawn into the inner workings of a turbulent Middle Eastern nation. Bassam “Barry” Al-Fayeed, the youngest son of the controversial dictator of a country in turmoil, returns to his homeland after a self-imposed 20-year exile in America for his nephew’s wedding. Upon his return, Barry is immediately thrown back into the familial and national politics of his youth. While the series is fictional, its content draws from the recent historical experiences of the Middle East region.
Following the exclusive screening, Ambassador Schneider led an enlightening discussion to explore the space that mass media occupies between representation and reality. At a time of social and political complexity in the Middle East and North Africa, media representation of this region has particular importance. The way in which the societies, policies, and peoples of the area are portrayed on screen is both influenced by and shapes the actual realities of these experiences on the ground. A recognition of this complex relationship had led Ambassador Schneider to convene a panel of regional experts—those who had themselves lived through moments of political turmoil in their own respective Middle Eastern nations—to advise the writers of Tyrant. Mr. Yaacoub was one of those who had been present on the panel of advisors, and Mr. Caron had been present as an Executive Producer and staff writer of the show.
Both Mr. Yaacoub and Mr. Caron described the advisory process as productive and beneficial. While Mr. Caron was candid in his depiction of the Hollywood objective as one of, primarily, entertainment, he enthusiastically recognized the value of authenticity in telling a story that could both entertain and inform. For his part, Mr. Yaacoub expressed his appreciation for the earnest reception of his critical views on the sometimes negative portrayals of the region, and he was encouraged by the willingness to learn on the part of the series’ writers and creators. Mr. Yaacoub, Mr. Caron, and Amb. Schneider all agreed that the initial advisory round table that had taken place earlier in the year should only mark the beginning of a fruitful relationship by which Hollywood could remain more engaged in accurate portrayals of the region.
Mr. Caron described a television series as a “book with one hundred chapters.” TIMEP looks forward to the next chapters of both the Tyrant series and of the continued relationship between Hollywood and the Middle East.