Featuring glossy, high-living members of the Iranian-American community in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, the series has the requisite fixation on materialism, personality clashes and people whose mantra is “more.”
But it also has Reza Farahan, 38, who bills himself as a rarity: A gay man who refuses to bow to what he says is entrenched anti-gay prejudice in his native country and among many Middle Easterners living in his adopted one.
In a 2007 appearance at Columbia University, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was asked to explain the execution of gays in Iran. He replied that “in Iran we don’t have homosexuals like in your country.”
Farahan, a real estate agent, said he was inspired to do “Shahs of Sunset” by an online project, It Gets Better, that’s aimed at inspiring hope among youngsters who are bullied because they are gay or are thought to be.
“It compelled me to want to have and use this platform to talk about myself and show how I live my life. My family loves me, my friends love me and I’m really supported,” a possibility for others like him, Farahan said.
(“All-American Muslim,” a TLC series about Muslim families living in the Detroit area, ended in January after one season in which a conservative Christian group called for an advertiser boycott and the show’s ratings faded.)
Besides Farahan, others in “Shahs of Sunset” include Mercedes Javid, described as a 30-something, luxury real estate agent and “known party girl,” Sammy Younai, 35, a Beverly Hills developer and man-about-town who builds lavish homes for fellow Iranians, and Golnesa Gharachedaghi, 29, who is supported by her father, ready to marry well and claims a hatred of ants and “ugly people.”
Other than touching on the friends’ shared roots, the show is “absolutely apolitical,” said Bravo executive Frances Berwick. The intent is to create a “portrait of how this particular group of friends lives” and to do it in an entertaining, sometimes even comedic way, she said.
Seacrest, who said the project offered a chance to explore a “tight-knit community full of people who have really embraced the American dream,” said he respects early concerns expressed by some Iranian-Americans over the portrayal.
“I don’t mind being stereotyped as materialistic,” he said. “Middle Easterners have many stereotypes, and materialism is one of the better ones. We’re usually viewed as evil terrorists, so if you’re going to stereotype me I’d prefer it be because we love gold and Mercedes instead of Uzis.”
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