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Beverly Hills, California, United States
Eli Kantor is a labor, employment and immigration law attorney. He has been practicing labor, employment and immigration law for more than 36 years. He has been featured in articles about labor, employment and immigration law in the L.A. Times, Business Week.com and Daily Variety. He is a regular columnist for the Daily Journal. Telephone (310)274-8216; eli@elikantorlaw.com. For more information, visit beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com and and beverlyhillsemploymentlaw.com


Monday, January 20, 2020

Kumail Nanjiani Thinks Immigrant Stories Can Still Be Hopeful

The comic and actor discusses “Little America,” his new anthology series on Apple TV Plus, and why “despite all the issues, I personally do feel optimistic about this country.”

A cowboy walks into a bar. Or more specifically, a Nigerian immigrant grad student in a cowboy hat walks into a bar in Oklahoma.
His name is Iwegbuna, and he’s trying to find comfort in a new land — ultimately, via cowboy culture — in an episode from “Little America,” the new Apple TV Plus anthology series created by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon (the husband-wife duo behind “The Big Sick”), and by Lee Eisenberg. The sight of the Stetson-wearing Iwegbuna, played by the Nigerian-born actor Conphidance, offers a snapshot of the show’s quietly radical conceit — that some glimpses of Americana might be surprising, but that doesn’t make them any less American.
Across eight episodes, the series, which debuts Friday, traverses the country and the globe, each installment tracking a different immigrant’s journey to or within the United States. A young Indian boy runs his family’s motel in Utah after his parents are deported; a gay Syrian man flees from home and searches for safety; a Ugandan woman sells cookies after her original American dream fails.
The show, which has already been renewed for a second season, is based on true stories adapted from the profiles of various real-life immigrants featured in Epic magazine.

“That was very important to us: Find different versions of the immigrant experience,” Nanjiani said over the phone from London, where he is shooting the ensemble Marvel film, “The Eternals.”

The Apple series is one of many things coming up in a blockbuster year for the comic turned actor, showrunner and soon, superhero. A few weeks ago, Nanjiani posted photos of himself online revealing a newly chiseled body for his role as Kingo in “The Eternals.” The internet collectively swooned.
Nanjiani admits he wanted to “show off a little bit,” but the response left him feeling somewhat vulnerable. “I was like, oh my god, what are my parents going to feel about it?” he recalled. “And my brother said, ‘Dad sent your shirtless pics to both family WhatsApp groups.’”
His debut as the first on-screen South Asian Marvel superhero will be another example of the representational barrier-breaking that has been an inherent facet of his work. With “Little America,” Nanjiani, who moved to the United States from Pakistan at 18, is highlighting immigrant narratives that buck traditional expectations and vary wildly, focusing as much on small joys and triumphs as on hardship and pain.

Nanjiani, who does not appear in the show, discussed the aim of “Little America,” the process of creating the right writers’ room and his own relationship to the American dream. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
This anthology approach to immigrant stories feels new. Were you trying to do something completely different?
We weren’t really setting out to do anything radical. It’s very easy to pigeonhole these types of stories — “the story of the immigrant is one of struggle and strife,” that kind of stuff. Obviously those stories exist and they’re valid, and some of them are in our show as well. But we really focused on the idea that every episode was going to be completely different, have a completely different tone.

Almost every episode is handled by a different set of writers and directors of color. It seems as if you really focused on determining who should be telling which stories.
Exactly. We wanted to make sure that the appropriate people were in charge of telling the stories and directing the episodes. Obviously, the challenge is a lot of these people have not been given the opportunity to do this before. So that makes it harder to find those people.

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