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'Empire' Duo Plot Arab American Dramedy at Freeform

posted on: Aug 1, 2020

Freeform is developing a dramedy from two of Empire‘s executive producers about a trio of Arab American women in Los Angeles.

Sanaa Hamri and Danny Strong — who are also involved in an Empire spinoff in the works at Fox — will serve as EPs on Ya Bint, from writers Dina Shihabi and Rolla Selbak. The title is an Arabic expression that loosely translates to “Hey girl.”

Ya Bint centers on three best friends — Maya, Jumana and Lara — who have moved from their homes in the Middle East to Los Angeles. The potential series follows them as they discover who they are as they’re caught between a culture that has defined them, and a new home that sells the idea that freedom equals happiness. The show slips back the curtain and reveals what it’s like to be young, Arab and female in America.

Shihabi, whose acting credits include Netflix’s Altered Carbon, Amazon’s Jack Ryan and Hulu’s Ramy, was born in Saudi Arabia and raised in Dubai. She became the first Middle East-born woman accepted into both the Juilliard and NYU graduate acting programs, receiving an MFA from the latter. She’ll also have an on-screen role in Ya Bint. She is repped by Management 360 and CAA.

Selbak, whose Palestinian family came to the United States after the first Gulf War, is a Sundance producing alumna and writer and director of award-winning films Choke and Three Veils. She also created the viral short A Day With a Muslim in 2016.

Hamri, who served as an EP on Empire and directed 19 episodes of the Fox hit, will direct Ya Bint. She has also helmed episodes of Shameless and Elementary and feature film Something New. Hamri is repped by CAA, Larry Kennar of LKA and attorney Patti Felker.

Hamri, Strong and Mandy Safavi will executive produce Ya Bint, with Shihabi and Selbak as co-EPs.

Should it go forward, Ya Bint would be a rare series centered on Arab American characters. It also represents one of the first development projects under new Freeform president Tara Duncan.