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Reza Farahan is the openly gay cast member of Bravo’s new series, Shahs of Sunset, which features an upwardly mobile group of Iranian-Americans in Beverly Hills. If you’re a fan of the network, there’s no way you haven’t heard him boast during the network’s many promo spots, “Hello, we’re Persian.”
Like MTV’s Jersey Shore or TLC’s All-American Muslim, the Ryan Seacrest Productions-produced series already suffers from criticism about its implied representation of the Persian-American community. But, the reality star says he doesn’t intend to represent his community.
“No one elected me to any office. I’m not from the Persian House of Representatives,” Farahan tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I represent me, and as fabulous as I am, and I think I should represent more people, I don’t. I represent myself, maybe my family to some extent, and maybe my circle of friends, but that’s about it. This is not a documentary on how Persians are, it’s just how the six of us are, and we all happen to be Persian.”
THR spoke to the 38-year-old realtor about his community’s beliefs and why he would do a show as potentially controversial as the Bravo series.
The cast is made up of both Muslim and Jewish Persians. Does being Persian trump religious differences?
Farahan: Absolutely. Mike [Shouhed] and Sammy [Younai] are my brothers and I love them and adore them. They could be Buddhist, they could be Atheist, they could be Agnostic, or they could be Christian. My love for them would not change.
Is that the general feeling among the Persian-American community when it comes to religion?
Farahan: Well, the funny thing is that you’re speaking to me and it just so happens that my mother grew up and was raised by a Muslim family and my father grew up and was raised by a Jewish family. So, you’re talking to someone whose parents broke every kind of tradition and created drama almost 50 years ago. So, I have that unique distinction. So for us, it’s never a huge thing.
For certain families, it’s a big deal. It just depends on how religious you are and how much you like to dissect things — if you want to dissect things down to being Persian, or down to being Persian and picking a religion. But for us in our group, we’re Persians, we’re friends, we love each other, and that’s it.
Can you enlighten me as to what it’s like to be gay in your community and the feedback you get?
Farahan: Absolutely. It’s definitely different if you’re in the United States, as opposed to living overseas. If you’re in the U.S. and you’re Persian, and you’re gay, it’s very, very hard. You’re not going to get stoned to death, or hanged because of it, but it’s still very hard. Persian culture is definitely much more traditional, very old school. You grow up, get married, and give them lots of children. So, your parents have to let go of that dream and it’s hard for a lot of people. Persians don’t deal well with things that deviate from their norm, and being gay deviates as far away from their norm as possible.
Why would you want to expose yourself to the criticism?
Farahan: As much heat as I take and I take a lot, trust me — I get the dirty looks, and nasty comments, and all of it. If me living out loud on television helps one gay kid, Middle Eastern, Persian, Israeli, wherever they’re from, if it gives them some hope, or if they’re being bullied, or if they are thinking about telling their families, if it helps one person, I’ll take as much heat as they can give me, because I’m strong. And no matter what anyone says to me, it will not impact me. I love myself. My family loves me. My friends love me, and nothing is going to change.
Shahs of Sunset premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. on Bravo.
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