Mo Najjar takes his hummus very seriously.
The star of Netflix’s new series “Mo,” which hit the streaming service on Friday, doesn’t take well to adulterations of his favorite food, calling the hummus in the snack cup a “damn war crime” and telling a woman selling chocolate hummus: “You know what you just did, you just insulted my grandmother.”
It is the kind of approach that can even unite Israelis and Palestinians behind a common cause.
The show, created by and starring actor and comedian Mohammed Amer, is largely autobiographical, drawing on his complex identity and history. Like Mo Najjar, Mo Amer was born in Kuwait to a Palestinian family from the village of Burin, near Nablus, in the West Bank.
His family fled Kuwait for Texas after the Gulf War in 1991, when Mo was 9, and settled in Houston, where they spent 20 years trying to gain legal residency while facing the challenges of being undocumented and lacking health insurance. and working papers. Both the real-life and fictional Mo were in a relationship with a Mexican Catholic woman, fraught with cultural clashes and family disillusionment. And they both struggled with the trauma of fleeing war and losing their father as teenagers.
Amer has also explored his complicated identity in two Netflix stand-up specials, 2018’s “Mo Amer: The Vagabond” and 2021’s “Mohammed in Texas.” He also co-stars in the Hulu series “Ramy,” about a Muslim American from first generation with Egyptian roots living in New Jersey.
The comedian said that he felt a great responsibility in creating and filming “Mo.”
“This is the first time [American] program starring a Palestinian with a Palestinian family fleeing war,” Amer told CNN last week. “How do you handle that? How do you balance all the stories I’ve accumulated? We had an embarrassment of riches because it was based on my life and, fortunately and unfortunately, there were many things that we went through.
Mo’s Palestinian identity is front and center in the comedy, as he constantly asserts his strong connection to the place he notes he has never been able to visit. (After she was finally granted US citizenship in 2009, Amer and his family were able to travel to the West Bank and Jerusalem in 2016.)
Amer told NPR last week that “I definitely identify as a Palestinian American, but I, you know, is one of those things that, as an asylee refugee in America, someone who is trying to fit in and feel like they have some kind of sense of belonging, you become a chameleon,” he said. “I definitely identify as a Palestinian Texan. I mean, I know this feels like a juxtaposition and kind of two worlds that should be colliding, but I feel very comfortable. with those two worlds.
“Mo,” which is both heartbreaking and sharply funny, highlights Amer’s identity as a Muslim, a Palestinian, a refugee and asylum seeker, and even a Houstonian. But the references to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are used more for laughs than for dramatic effect.
Interrupting a couple of Arab and Jewish friends arguing on the show, Mo asks, “Rabin, Arafat, have you finished recording your podcast?” Telling a Texan that he’s Palestinian and hearing “Shalom” in response, Mo replies, “Yeah, it’s a real brand issue.” And playing arcade games one night, he tells his friends: “It’s like throwing stones, Palestinians should be the best at this.”
Swapping out the family’s longstanding but ineffective Palestinian immigration attorney for a Jewish attorney on the ball makes for both humorous and poignant moments.
Amer said it was important for her identity to focus on the show without feeling like propaganda.
“Obviously that’s part of our origin story,” he told Variety. “It was important to communicate that very clearly without going overboard. Many programs are full of almost propaganda and want to push you in the face a lot. Whereas this is just a very sweet story of a family that is struggling emotionally after being displaced a second time and trying to put the pieces back together.”
Ultimately, Amer said, he sought to tell his own very limited story as a way to engage with much larger audiences.
“This story is uniquely mine, it’s a refugee immigrant story, but there are many, there are many people who feel the way I feel, or can relate to the story,” he told MSNBC. “This is a story about belonging, about feeling equal to the person next to you, anyone can relate to that.”