I Was 'Roseanne's' Muslim Neighbor, This Is My Story of Shock and Grief (Guest Column)

Courtesy of ABC; Adam Hendershott

Roseanne Barr’s racist tweet disturbed the Iran-born, Austria-raised actor who played the Conners’ next-door friend this season and destroyed a show that could have helped build bridges.

My name was Samir Al-Harazi and I used to live with my family in Lanford, Ill., next door to the Conner family. On May 29, there was an unexpected explosion next door — it wasn’t the fertilizer in our backyard — and we lost our house. We got deported.

If these words don’t make sense to you, then you haven’t seen episode seven of Roseanne's season 10. And if you would like to watch it, I don’t think you can find it anywhere now.

I am an actor, born in Iran and son to Iran-born parents. I got to portray Samir Al-Harazi, the husband of the Conners’ new neighbors in that episode. I’m usually hesitant when it comes to making public statements but in this case I feel called to do so. 

When my manager sent me the audition for Roseanne, I couldn’t believe it. I had watched the iconic show growing up, and booking it felt like a childhood dream come true. I would play the new neighbor, later referred to as the “Muslim neighbor,” which was a big opportunity, one that carried enormous responsibility to represent a demographic that is often not well-portrayed on TV.

Samir was the face and voice of many people in this country and all over the world who deal with racism on a daily basis in all kinds of forms. His story is an everyday story. He was the someone living next to someone — the construction worker, the doctor, the professor. The neighbor.

When I showed up for the table read on a Monday, the first person I met was executive producer Whitney Cummings, who welcomed me with a smile. “It’s going to be a fun week,” she told me. Everybody seemed excited to be there and the read went well — with a comedy, if people laugh, you know it’s working. After the read, I was still sitting in my chair taking notes when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and it was Roseanne Barr. With a big smile on her face and open arms, she said, “Welcome aboard,” and she gave me a warm, genuine hug. She introduced me to some other cast- and crewmembers, offering, “Please, if you need anything, feel free to ask.”

During the subsequent days, it became obvious that it was a dream for others to be on that set, too, including crewmembers who told me they had worked on the original run. Everybody was all in! I got to hang out with Roseanne and we shared several really interesting conversations. I mostly listened, but she asked questions about me and my background. I got to know her as a funny, helpful and real person.

When I read about her tweet, I couldn’t believe it. I was so shocked, angry and hurt. Her words go against everything I believe in and everything that our episode represented, or so I thought. I was extremely disappointed not only by her words, but also by the cancellation of the show which shined a light into many dark spots of our society — corners of society we don’t like to look at, see or talk about at parties. 

I’m deeply sorry for everyone involved. Cast and crew who have worked so hard and had poured their hearts into their jobs. I feel you. I know that I am a bit player in all of this, that there are people working on the show whose livelihoods depended upon that work. But it did hurt me on a professional level, too, since the showrunners had made optimistic statements about having our characters return for next season. Nothing would've made me happier.

I relate to Samir’s story in many ways. I have experienced racism my whole life and I still do. Every day. Sometimes more obvious and sometimes not. It’s like being in the gutter — if you stand in it long enough, you get used to the smell. 

The show is gone but there are many lessons to learn. Racism is not an American problem. It’s a human condition and humanitarian problem and must be explored on TV and in film. Storytelling has the power to connect and build bridges, open dialogue, build understanding, create awareness and change perspective. It helps people heal and recover. We need that now more than ever.

Alain Washnevsky is an actor who has appeared on Homeland, Curb Your Enthusiasm, NCIS: Los Angeles, Aquarius and SEAL Team.

A version of this story appears in the June 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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