Meet “Mo”: New Netflix Comedy is a Hallmark of Mainstream Palestinian Representation
By: Riley Bryant / Arab America Contributing Writer
In the comedy world, it can be hard to break out. The best way to do so, they say, is to “write what you know,” advice that comedian star Mo Amer took to heart with his new semi-autobiographical feature Mo.
Who is “Mo?”
Mohammed “Mo” Mustafa Amer, also known as Mo Najjar, is the youngest of six siblings born to Palestinian refugees in Kuwait. He moved to the US when he was nine, and since had let his Palestinian and refugee identity guide both his stand up and other entertainment content. He travels the country giving stand up specials relating his experience as an Arab, refugee, and American-grown Texan.
Before Mo, Amer has seen commercial success with two stand up specials on Netflix. His breakout special, The Vagabond (2018), tells tales of airport security, cultural blending, and citizenship escapades. His most successful taping was his most recent, Mohammed in Texas (2021), featuring similar material. Other credits of his include a recurring role on the show Ramy (2019-2021), Americanish (2021), and the upcoming Black Adam (2022).
What is Mo?
Mo is the story of the man you learned about just now: Mohammed Amer, Kuwaiti-born Palestinian-American with a chip on his shoulder and a family to protect. This semi-autobiographical film is largely based on the comedian’s own life, stars Amer as himself, and hosts an elite cast of some of the biggest names in Arab Hollywood.
The show comprises of 8 episodes that detail Amer’s life chronologically from his time fleeing Kuwait to moving up in the comedy world. It features everything from family, to religion, to heartbreak, to friendships. It is a deeply personal love letter to Amer’s childhood that, while showing the nitty-gritty of citizenship pursuits and cultural assimilation, also demonstrates the personhood behind each and every Arab-American in this country that gets generalized together with no clear basis.
The show is not intended to get political- a pivot from other Arab-centric content on the streaming giant’s catalog. While it does deal with Amer’s battle with the government for citizenship, the intent of the show is not to discuss the merits of politics one way or the other; rather, it showcases the lives of those who have to deal with these laws and policies, and highlights how they go about their daily lives under that umbrella. Again: it’s about the person living through each day one after another, not the politics of their background.
Why is Mo so anticipated?
In a recent trend, Netflix has added a plethora of Palestinian-centric content under the designated “Palestinian Stories” collection. Although it has drawn criticism from pro-Israel groups, the move nonetheless stands as a beacon of Palestinian recognition in global mainstream media. Mo is included in that collection since its release today, though stands out against the other titles for its authenticity and redefining of the Palestinian- and Arab-American experience.
While there are plenty of options under the Palestinian Stories collection to add to your next family movie night, a common critique of them all is their lack of diversity in their portrayal of Palestinian and Middle Eastern cultures. Many are centered around the Israeli occupation, several lack the nuance of true Palestinian cultural struggles (aside from those related to Israel), and all are rooted in stereotypical and cliche falsehoods that don’t accurately exemplify the depth of Palestinian heritage.
Yet, Mo is out to change that. Amer’s work has been described as “single-handedly flipping the narrative” because of his success in showing, in unabridged authenticity, the daily and “normal” lives of Palestinians. He adds a raw flair of Americanism with the tales of his immigration and citizenship journeys, both of which add layers to his work that are painfully missing from other titles on Netflix.
Amer’s story is not only important for non-Arabs to see, but also Arab Americans everywhere that can finally see themselves accurately represented (without it being underscored by Israeli perspectives). Just from the release of the trailer, Arab Americans have been talking all over social media about their excitement to have something they can call their own. The trailer is flooded by rows and rows of comments counting down the days until release, inviting friends to watch parties, and thanking Amer for his role in bringing the Palestinian population to the spotlight.
Mo comes out today on Netflix in association with A24.
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