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Little America's Kumail Nanjiani Says Immigration-Themed Show Is About People, Not Politics

Showing immigrants as people is unavoidably political, though

Liam Mathews

The producers of Apple TV+'s Little America appeared at the Television Critics Association winter press tour on Sunday to talk about their immigration-themed anthology series, which premiered Jan. 17. Executive producers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon (via satellite), Lee Eisenberg, Alan Yang, Sian Heder, and Joshuah Bearman talked about their based-on-true-stories short film collection, which show uplifting immigrant stories in a way never quite shown on TV like this before, like the episode about Rafiq, a Syrian refugee in Boise, Idaho.

"The interesting thing about that story is, you know, he was a gay man in Syria who was persecuted and looking for acceptance and fled for his life," said Sian Heder. "And we just love the idea that he ended up in, you know, the gay Mecca of Boise, walking into a gay club and getting to see these, like, drag queens performing. [He] got to have this incredible joy. And then the fact that it took place in Boise, they just felt like a funny weird little [thing]."

Most of the stories are set in places like Boise and not big cities where immigrant stories have been told many times, which was intentional. "I grew up in Pakistan, and my America that I knew was from movies, which is L.A. and New York," said Kumail Nanjiani. "And then when I moved, I moved to Iowa. And I remember being like 'Oh, you guys did not advertise this part.' I think pop culture usually portrays very specific centers, so that was also exciting was in the show to be able to show, somewhat ironically, more of America than people usually see in movies and TV shows."

Little America Review: Apple's First Must-See Series Humanizes the Immigrant Experience

The producers said the show itself has no political agenda, but know that it will be politicized, because it doesn't exist in a vacuum. "Just by saying that immigrants are human beings with hopes and desires and likes and dislikes in this climate is a radical statement rather than just a very self-evident statement of fact, so obviously that part is unavoidable," Nanjiani said. "But we had this conversation and we decided that if we're telling a story about immigrants and we sort of make it overtly political, you're taking the focus away from the person whose story you're telling, and you're putting the focus on America. You're putting the focus on the political system, on the immigration system, and we didn't want that. We wanted the focus to be on these people, on these stories."

Nanjiani was asked to reflect on his own experience living the American dream, starting as a Pakistani immigrant in Iowa and now becoming a ripped Marvel movie star, and he said he was very lucky and was in the right place at the right time. But his wife Emily V. Gordon had a more insightful answer.

"Kumail works very, very hard, and I think he's worked very hard to get the success that he has," she said, "but my thought is, even if he was still just an open mic comedian in Chicago like he was when I met him, he would still be deserving of a Little America story. We can still do an episode about him, because it's not just about the exceptional and very well-muscled."

Little America Season 1 is now streaming on Apple TV+.

Conphidance, Little America

Conphidance, Little America


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