Nahnatchka Khan: Bringing Relatable Stories from Diverse Communities to Life
Although television played a huge role in my life, I hardly saw myself represented. My parents emigrated from Iran and I was born in Las Vegas and raised in Hawaii. Growing up, I thought Iran only existed on the news, and it was all negative and it never occurred to me then that it could be any different. It wasn't until I saw the Iranian WWF star "The Iron Sheik," who was a legend in my house, that I thought maybe we do exist outside of bad news reporting. Although he was portrayed as a villain, he was a hero in my family because it was the first time we saw someone who sounded like us.
As a first-generation American, there was always an interesting dynamic in my experience where I served as a bridge between my parents and the outside world. A lot of my time was spent explaining what my culture was like at home to my friends while explaining to my parents what my culture was like at school and why Air Jordans were so expensive. There was no way I could've known it at the time, but those were the moments I would come back to and revisit as an adult and try to relay in the stories I told. And oddly enough, the specificity of being that "bridge" is also very universal, so many people are able to remember that feeling from their own lives.
Inspired by Saturday Night Live, I started writing comedy columns for my high school newspaper, loosely based on my life experiences. When I started attending USC film school, my writings began to take shape in the format of screenwriting. My first job out of school was the kid's animated show Pepper Ann. Created by Sue Rose, it was my first opportunity to tell stories that I thought were different, funny and engaging.
For most of my projects, whether Young Rock, Fresh Off the Boat, Don't Trust the B- in Apt 23, or Always Be My Maybe, I always look for stories that have a different perspective. I can remember what it felt like to be excluded, so I enjoy amplifying narratives from different communities that are rarely seen, similar to my experience.
Thinking about Fresh Off the Boat, which ended last year after six seasons and over 100 episodes, and it weirdly feels more relevant today than when we started, dealing with issues like assimilation, immigration, what it means to truly achieve the American Dream. I am grateful that we had a chance to cover topics that are rarely covered in network broadcast comedies and help tell stories from diverse communities; it's important that we tell stories that reflect everyone in our society.
When it comes to telling more inclusive stories in Hollywood, there has been progress but there's still more work to be done, particularly behind the scenes and on the executive level. In addition to the increase of diverse creatives, we need to see diversity among people in positions of power. It takes a village to get a television series or film made, and that village should be inclusive. You need people in power to value diverse stories just as much as the creatives.
Nahnatchka Khan is a comedy writer, director and producer whose credits include Fresh Off the Boat, Don't Trust the B- in Apt 23, Always Be My Maybe, and Young Rock.
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