In conversation with Rajeev and Elan Dassani, co-executive producers of the breakthrough Arabic series streaming on Netflix.
Netflix‘s first Arabic Original started streaming this June and has attracted equal measures of favourable reviews and controversy. Digital Studio caught up with Rajeev Dassani, co-executive producer with his twin brother Elan Dassani, who also co-wrote Jinn with Amin Matalqa
Broadcast to 190 countries and 148 million subscribers, Netflix’s first Arabic Original, Jinn, has been one of the most-anticipated shows in the region.
But when it premiered on June 13, the teen drama series caused an unprecedented uproar in Jordan, where it is set.
Jordanian officials were outraged by “lewd scenes” of Amman high schoolers shown drinking alcohol, kissing and swearing.
With calls for censorship and removal of Jinn from Netflix Jordan, the young actors were trolled online as well. The Royal Film Commission of Jordan and Netflix MENA tweeted their support of Jinn, calling for an end to the bullying and more tolerance of diverse lifestyles.
Digital Studio caught up with co-executive producers Rajeev Dassani and Elan Dassani (also the head writer) to unpack all that’s happened since Jinn dropped on Netflix.
Digital Studio: Did you expect this sort of backlash at all?
Elan Dassani: In general, we tried to portray the issues young Arabs face in their real lives as authentically as possible: love, bullying, their aspirations, hopes, and dreams. We expected different groups would react to Jinn in different ways. Our hope was to create a show that young adults in the Arab world, and worldwide, could naturally relate to.
DS: What inspired the script for Jinn?
ED: We’ve worked in Jordan many times, for shows including Star Trek: Discovery and Heroes Reborn, and our own short scifi Arabic language film Seam (seamfilm. com) and have grown to love shooting there over the past 10 years. During our trips, we spoke to people who had jinn stories. Rajeev and I found them fascinating, especially as we looked deeper into the Arabic mythology of the jinn and how it connected to modern Jordanians.
We realised there was an opportunity to both talk about modern Arab teens in a way that hasn’t been done before, as well as explore a jinn mythology that hadn’t really been done in a TV series context.
DS: How is Jinn different from existing content for teens? Which teen films have influenced you?
Rajeev Dassani: We love the Netflix series, Stranger Things, Dark, Baby, and The Rain for telling modern teen stories that are authentic to their regions. We also love series like Freak and Geeks, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The OC. Let the Right One In was very influential in the making of Jinn, you could almost call our show Let the Right Jinn In! Recently we loved It and it’s camaraderie amongst the teens. Arab youth have been under-represented in entertainment content worldwide, and we’re excited to help change that.