Los Angeles-based U.S. actor and producer Waleed Zuaiter, who plays the lead in Iraq war drama series “Baghdad Central,” is launching a TV and film production company called FlipNarrative that aims to become a bridge between Hollywood and the Middle East and South Asia.
Zuaiter — who is of Palestinian heritage, was born in California and raised in Kuwait — has long been involved in various types of production, including bringing to the stage the New York Arab-American Comedy Festival and also shepherding Hany Abu-Assad’s “Omar,” the Oscar-nominated love story set on the Palestinian border in which he plays a coercive Israeli agent.
“The feeling behind producing is something that, for me as an actor, has always been very complementary (to his acting work),” Zuaiter tells Variety, adding that throughout the years he’s established key industry relationships.
With FlipNarrative, the idea is “to extend this network and this collective of really talented, mostly Middle Eastern, Arab-American artists” and work to form partnerships and package TV and film productions that “tell very disruptive stories.”
The dozen projects that FlipNarrative has in mostly early stages comprise a TV series working-titled “The Valley” set in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. The show aims to realistically depict the illicit drug trade there, and is “inspired by real-life families who do this as a living,” Zuaiter said, adding that he’s looking to partner with a Middle East distributor from the onset on this project “which has pan-Arab” as well as international potential.
There are also two feature films in the FlipNarrative pipeline, although details are still vague. The projects include an untitled romcom set between Palestine and Israel and an untitled, female-centric family drama set in Morocco, on which Oscar-nominated Irish multi-hyphenate Jim Sheridan is a producer. Sheridan is president of the Dublin Arabic Film Festival, which is where he and Zuaiter met.
In addition, there’s also a documentary short titled “Perception” (currently in post) about the renowned French-Tunisian ‘calligraffiti’ artist known as El Seed.
U.K. talent agency The Artist Partnership and Beverly Hills-based management, production and finance company Echo Lake Entertainment will be representing and acting as consultants to FlipNarrative.
They will also be helping to implement the start-up shingle’s philosophy of capturing a growing market trend by amplifying underrepresented — and historically misrepresented — voices around the world, especially the Arab world.
“It’s not just about showing different faces on the screen,” said Zuaiter.
“It’s also about hearing their voices,” he adds, noting how “there has been historical misrepresentation of communities,” including the Arab community. In this respect “Baghdad Central,” which is refreshingly centred on Iraqi lives, marks an inspiring novelty.
“I’ve never seen an Arab heroic point of view” Zuaiter pointed out about his “Baghdad Central” character, a local cop forced into a risky collaboration with U.S.-occupying forces for the love of his daughters.
“I think we need more of that. Not just for Arabs but also other forgotten communities.”