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‘Tyrant’: Howard Gordon, Experts Discuss Drama’s Authenticity

After shooting conflicts and a move from Israel to Turkey for safety reasons, the cast of FX’s “Tyrant” was unavailable to join executive producer Howard Gordon on a panel at the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour on Monday. In their place sat experts on Middle Eastern culture — all advisers to the drama series.

From the periphery, the group of panelists reviews the show as it progresses, providing feedback and pointing out areas of concern to Gordon.

“I thought they were just bringing us in for a photo op, but in all honesty I have given harsh criticism,” said Ramy Yaacoub, deputy director of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East policy. “The fact that they’re receptive and gracious about understanding my views and my colleagues’ as well is encouraging.”

“There was critique for sure, but there was a general feeling that we could work together,” added Michael Wolfe, who works as an Arabic/English interpreter and cultural adviser. Wolfe spoke of the hesitation that existed going into an initial pilot screening.

Many of the panelists agreed on going into the screening with a hardened eye, ready to tear the show apart over its depiction of Middle Eastern culture. Several notes on content and context of the “Tyrant” story were given, and according to the panel, Gordon and his team are very open to considering them to improve and shape the story to be more true to life.

“I wouldn’t say it’s real 100% — there are partial realities,” said Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. The show promotes itself as a fictional story of family set in a world plagued by tyranny and brutal challenges, based on the reality of life in the Middle East.

“While we’ve taken on the issue of tyranny as telling a story, we look as it as an opportunity,” noted Al-Marayata. “We want to work within the creative process to see how we can develop this humanizing portrayal.”

“From somebody that’s lived under it, it’s in a way a good thing,” said Aseel Albanna, a cultural ambassador for her native Iraq. Born and raised in Baghdad, Albanna spoke to the reality of living under a dictatorship and said “Tyrant” “spells it out,” and has the chance to depict the true strength of people in the region.

“This is a time where we can get things accurate,” said Al-Marayati in closing, “get things authentic and tell a story that humanizes these people.”

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