One of Hollywood's most successful Muslim writers looks at life beyond NBC's Kings
When I first spoke last week with Kamran Pasha, producer and writer on NBC’s ambitious drama Kings, the show was languishing on Saturday nights -- a seeming casualty of a regime change at NBC that immediately scuttled plans to feature the show on 10 p.m. Thursdays.
Now, days after our conversation, NBC has pulled the show from the schedule entirely, with vague plans to burn off the remaining episodes during the summer. It's an ignominious death for a series that cleverly -- and lavishly -- retells the story of King David in a modern context.
But Pasha, acutely aware of his responsibility as one of Hollywood’s most visible and successful Muslim writers, is smart enough to keep a judicious silence.
So he won’t complain about NBC’s decisions, which include spending millions making a cool drama starring Deadwood alum Ian McShane, only to avoid talking about the most notable aspect of the show: its connection to the Bible.
“Our goal was to say, look at what the modern world would be like if we had the kind of kings that were shown in the Bible,” said Pasha, who joined the series after creator Michael Green wrote the pilot episode. “My personal preference would have been to highlight the biblical references. Because one of our challenges was that people saw ads for the show, and they didn’t know what it was about.”
Pasha’s own challenge has been to face down stereotypes of Muslims both onscreen and in real life -- from working on Showtime’s nuanced series about an American Muslim /U.S. government agent infiltrating a terrorist group, Sleeper Cell, to writing a pilot for a new series looking at Islamic and Christian secret societies in the modern world.
“What was difficult for me, is that I’m a practicing Muslim . . . and I had to write a show where the bad guys are constantly quoting the holy Koran,” said Pasha, 37, who left a career as a lawyer 10 years ago to try combating stereotypes as a writer in Hollywood. “Imagine being a Christian writing a show where the only Christian lines were coming from people in the Ku Klux Klan.”
That’s one reason, Pasha says, behind the creation of his new novel Mother of the Believers, which tells the story of the birth of Islam through the eyes of Aisha, the wife of the prophet Mohammed. At a time when novels referencing Muslim culture such as Snow and The Kite Runner are clogging bestseller lists, Pasha figured a fictional tale centered on Islam’s genesis would attract more attention than a history treatise.
“Literature allows you to embrace characters; you can see the world through their eyes,” said the writer, who was born in Pakistan but moved to America at age 3. “I always thought . . . everybody has this awful vision of our religion, but in our mosque we’re talking about this woman (Aisha) who is the opposite.”
Barring a last-minute miracle on a David and Goliath scale, Kings will soon be gone and Pasha will be focused on his new pilot idea, all the while, hoping to counter stereotypical images of his religion embedded in a pile of action films and TV series.
“Long ago, there was a world of lawlessness and chaos, where religion arrived to bring order,” he said. “There are people all over the world who want to bring us back to that world. But it’s like going back to kindergarten; it’s not possible. And the vast majority of us want to live looking forward.”