Warning: this article contains minor spoilers.
Netflix’s new heartwarming comedy series “Mo” offers an intimate look at one’s identity through the life of its leading man, Mo Najjar. Mo’s life is a mix of two cultures and is marked by a turbulent childhood due to state violence and war. As he and his family struggle to obtain proper legal documentation in the US, his lives in Houston are filled with love, laughter, and Palestinian-American resilience.
From the beginning, Mo, who is played by Palestinian-American comedian and creative Mo Amer, displays the cheerful and humorous attitude that brings viewers closer to him. While humor remains an important aspect of storytelling, the series tackles various political themes, including identity, legal documentation, job protections, borders, and trauma.
NextShark spoke with Amer, who is also an executive producer on the series, to get some insight into his creative decisions and personal experiences on the show which is largely based on his own life.
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With Palestinian culture so deeply intertwined with the show’s story, Amer has a hard time choosing which specific cultural reference is her favorite. He says that what immediately comes to mind is the chocolate hummus scene, where Mo is offered a sample of it and immediately turns it down. He then shares that the scenes with the “shoes thing” (people not taking off their shoes before entering someone’s house) are the ones that stand out to him the most.
In a couple of scenes, Mo and his family talk about the importance of taking off your shoes, not only because cleanliness is next to godliness, but also because it’s just “gross,” especially if you’re coming back from New York City. Metro station.
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“Personally, I find it really gross when people wear their shoes in their own home. Watch reruns of ‘Seinfeld’ and watch them come off the street and then jump on Jerry’s couch and his feet are on him in his shoes. … Stuff like that really makes me laugh,” says Amer, who laughs and pretends to scream in horror.
On the other hand, when it came to difficult topics like gun violence, displacement and drug abuse, Amer says limited time was a difficult constraint to overcome.
“There is a lot to unpack. You have eight episodes, 30 minutes max per episode; actually, it’s like 22 minutes,” she explains. “We put a lot into that short amount of time, so I’m really proud of what we were able to accomplish on the show.”
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On the topic of what’s yet to be unpacked, Amer provides an overview of what he and his team hope to explore in Season 2, including more details about Mo, his siblings, his father, and Mo’s Mexican-American girlfriend, Maria. , who owns her own Auto Shop.
Amer shares that it was also crucial to include “the effect of the Gulf War” and show “what happens in generational trauma,” especially with the constant displacement that her family and many other families in places like Syria, Palestine, and Lebanon experience. to this day. .
“It’s still going on today,” says Amer. “Who is in charge of Iraq, who is doing what, uncertainty in Syria, in Palestine and Lebanon. This is still happening. These political decisions have consequences, and it falls, unfortunately, on the people.”
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In fact, Amer says that the most painful scene she had to film, even though the entire show was a painful re-enactment of her trauma, was a biographical depiction of her father’s torture during the Gulf War:
“I realized when I was doing this scene and I broke down afterwards, I realized I never really regretted it in my life. I glossed over it because it had already happened, my dad had been deceased for quite some time at that point. And I didn’t really focus on that to where the scene forced me to see it, hear it, almost smell it.”
It’s an experience that affects him to this day, but Amer says he felt blessed. Being vulnerable on camera was “cathartic”, and he hopes that for anyone who may have similar experiences, the scene can help bring peace and understanding, guiding them towards “mental and spiritual growth”.
The show’s characters convey their stories with a genuine tone that, along with its excellent cinematography and art, compels audiences to dig deeper into the stylistic choices that accompany the actors’ phenomenal performances.
An example of this is how the show highlights olives and olive oil, which are cultural staples within Palestinian communities. They become conduits for moments of tenderness and connection that evoke an inexplicable feeling of comfort and belonging.
Amer describes the decision to focus on tradition and plant herself as a form of emotional sanctuary for her Palestinian characters, saying: “The destruction of olive trees is a huge problem that Palestinians face when their land is taken from them and they destroy their trees. , which is very sad and discouraging.”
“Olive oil has a lot of properties, spiritual properties and healing properties, so we want to showcase that on the show,” he adds. “There is also the olive branch, the symbol of peace. And then you have the parallels of Texas, Houston, New Mexico and the ‘maybe it belonged to us, it doesn’t belong to you’ kind of element as well.”
The olive oil also provided familiar comfort to Mo’s mother, Yusra Najjar (played by Farah Bsieso) “for her to feel, after all these years, ‘What is my purpose? My children are grown, what is mine now? What do I do, what makes me happy?’”
Amer sums it up beautifully: “For her, it’s making fresh olive oil from scratch. That is her way of always being tied to her roots.” He says that he made sure to include a childhood song in a particular scene as a “symbol of love” to his mother. The scene itself makes Amer “emotional in the right way,” and he was very grateful to be able to do something so “beautiful” for the show.
He made sure “Mo” was “grounded, real and authentic” in his story while “being mindful of everyone else on the show and allowing everyone room to grow.”
Featured Image via Netflix