'Shahs of Sunset' reality show: Is this what Iranian-Americans are like?
'Shahs of Sunset' purports to introduce Americans to the culture of Iranian-Americans. But by casting an ultrarich family, some say, it will seem more like 'Keeping up with the Kardashians.'
Colleen E. Hayes/Bravo/AP
California's Iranian-American community is getting its very own reality TV show â exposing millions of viewers to the culture, trials, and antics of six Iranian-American men and women who either immigrated to the United States with their families after Iran's 1979 revolution, or were born and raised in America.
At a time when reports on Iran and things Iranian focus primarily on theÂ Islamic Republic's controversial nuclear program, the prospects for war, and sanctions, much of the Iranian American community is asking whether âShahs of Sunset,â which debuts Sunday night on Bravo, could help improve American perceptions of Iranian culture.
Some, though, are also asking whether the show trades in one stereotype for another, and whether it presents a face of the community that Iranian-Americans want to show.
âIt's introducing people to the idea that Iranian culture even exists,âÂ says Shadi Gholizadeh, a researcher on Iranian politics from the San Francisco Bay area. âIt's showing a face of Iranians that's not related to terrorism or nuclear weapons.â
Produced by Ryan Seacrest, host of âAmerican Idolâ and producer of âKeeping up with the Kardashians,â which depicts the family life of Armenian-American socialite Kim Kardashian, âShahs of Sunsetâ will take place in Los Angeles, a.k.a. âTehr-Angeles,â home to the largest population of Iranians outside of Iran's capital, Tehran.
âShahsâ certainly marks a shift in the stereotypical portrayal of Iranians, which was dominated by the frightening images of Americans held hostage in Tehran after the 1979 overthrow of the Shah. Even in the 1990s, films such as âNot Without My Daughterâ (1991) branded Iranian culture as narrow-minded and provincial.
But these entrepreneurial Iranian-Americans aren't the types âShahsâ isÂ following. Rather, the show will be a fusion of Bravo's âReal Housewivesâ franchise â which depicts wealthy suburban housewives â and âKeeping Up With the Kardashians.â
All the Shahs portrayed in the show went to Beverly Hills High SchoolÂ and enjoy ultra-rich lifestyles: they live in plush homes, dine at high-endÂ restaurants, drive luxury cars, and only wear designer fashions.
Some Iranian-Americans are advocating a boycott of âShahsâ as they thinkÂ showcasing the lives of Iranian-American socialites who flaunt their statusÂ as part of the country's moneyed âone per cent,â will merely worsen publicÂ views of the Iranian-American community, especially as the rest of theÂ United States is still painstakingly climbing out of an economic recession.
âThe people taking part in this show are a small percentage of ourÂ community and nothing like the rest of us. They're pushing stereotypes,âÂ says 26-year old Sheeva Javid, a student at the academy of arts in SanÂ Francisco.
That said, if âShahs of Sunsetâ had a more realistic, intellectual slant,Â would Bravo viewers watch the show? Probably not.
âI'll watch one episode out of curiosity,â says Azita Mashayekhi, who moved to the United States at age 18 after Iran's 1979 revolution and works at a Washington-based non-profit. âBut I just don't connect with them, in the same way I wouldn't connect with the Real Housewives.â
The purpose of reality television is to entertain, but by putting the showâs Iranian-Americans on public view, âShahsâ will inevitably push the community to acknowledge some realities that are rarely discussed. By casting an openly gay Iranian-American, for example, âShahsâ will shed light on the very real and vibrant Iranian-American gay community.
âThe fact that it shows there's a gay culture among Iranians in the US andÂ also in Iran is huge,â says Ms. Gholizadeh, the Bay-area based researcher.
âWhatever you may think of the show âŚ you must admit it's quite braveÂ to be 'out' in such a public way.â
Will âShahsâ reception by American viewers ultimately be much differentÂ from that of other reality shows? Probably not.
âThe show is an evolution of the Iranian-American into truly beingÂ American,â says Tehran SoParvaz, a 26-year old comedian and entertainerÂ from Washington, DC.
"The show ... is simply the next step in assimilation, and will hopefully make the Iranian-American a more stable mainstay in American society.â