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American East: A Thoughtful Movie for Arabs, Jews and Iranians

Jan 26, 2009

Actress and former Dallas Cowboys' Iranian cheerleader, Sarah Shahi, and Iranian-descent Actors Anthony Azizi and Sam Golazari all do wonderful acting in this movie, as do the rest of the cast, mostly Arab-Americans. The movie (2007) is about a Muslim family-man (Badreya) who wants to open an authentic Middle Eastern restaurant in Los Angeles, with his best friend, who's a Jewish Business man (Tony Shalhoub). The story highlights the pressures under which many Arab-Americans now live by focusing on the points-of-view of three main characters. Unlike other Hollywood movies that use exaggerated and dramatized stereotypes (either positive or negative) about people of Middle Eastern origin living in the U.S., American Eastoffers a realistic, satirical, balanced, thoughtful and human portrayal of Arab and Jewish Americans.

The Iranian Cast:

Aahoo Jahansouz, also known as Sarah Shahi, was born in Texas to an Iranian father and a part-Spanish part-Azerbaijani-Iranian mother (her parents divorced when she was 10 years old).

She is reportedly a great-great-granddaughter of the 19th century Persian Shah Fath Ali Shah Qajar. She attended High School and University in Dallas, Texas. She won the Miss Fort Worth USA pageant in 1997. She joined the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders 1999-2000 squad. Following encouragement by Director Robert Altman, she moved to Los Angeles and accepted roles in several TV series, such as Alias, Dawson's Creek, and The L Word where she played Carmen de la Pica Morales. She also appeared in an episode of HBO's The Sopranos, and as one of the leads alongside Damian Lewis in the NBC hit show Life. Sarah Shahi speaks English, Persian, and some Spanish, and has a Brown belt in Karate.

In her role as Salwah in American East, Aahoo Jahansouz (Sarah Shahi) portrays a young Arab-American professional (nurse) who is caught between Arabic and American cultures.

Anthony Azizi, born in New York City of Iranian descent and of Bahaii faith, is mainly known for his television work. He has had recurring roles on Lost, 24, and Commander in Chief and has also guest-starred on many other TV shows such as Criminal Minds, CSI: Miami, JAG, Gilmore Girls, The Shield, NYPD Blue, The West Wing and Desperate Housewives. Azizi is married to actress Cymbeline Smith

In American East, Azizi plays Murad, a coffee shop Arab patron and an angry and vocal critic of America and Israel.

Sam Golzari, born in London, England to Iranian parents. He graduated from UCLA's Conservatory Acting Program and has had several roles in movies, such as in 21 and American Dreamz. Golzari is also a founding member of the LA-based music band the Elevaters . In American East, he acts as David, a Jewish business man who is against doing business with the Arab.

Summary

All together, American East is a timely, poignant feature drama about Arab-Americans living in post-9/11 Los Angeles. The movie is suitable for families despite use of some adult language (mostly by the angry Murad) and a brief suggestive romance scene (perhaps to appeal to the Western viewer). The story examines long-held misunderstandings about Arabic and Islamic culture. Among the Cast members, Ya Ya is played by Mike Batayeh (pictured below), the Actor and comedian whose stand up comedy tour  was recently featured on kodoom.com. Another related event recently featured on our site was a panel discussion about Muslims and Arabs in Hollywood, organized by Levantine Cultural Center.

The movie was co-produced by Zahra Pictures, founded by Ahmad Zahra, born in Syria and raised in both Syria and the UK.  After acquiring a Medical Degree from Damascus University, Ahmad went on to study Film, his first passion, at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).  His film experience ranges from development and production to distribution in both independent and studio pictures.  After several years with 20th Century Fox, Ahmad went on to found Zahra Pictures in response to a need in the film market for media that can bridge the gap between different cultures (The company's logo, similar to the Hand of Fatima Zahra, is depicted below). The American East is available in DVD, and is selectively screened in theaters.

Directed by:  HESHAM ISSAWI Produced by: AHMAD ZAHRA, ANANT SINGH and BRIAN COX, Screenplay by: HESHAM ISSAWI & SAYED BADREYA and BRIAN COX


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