‘We want to make great Saudi television,’ says ‘Crashing Eid’ creator Nora Aboushousha
DUBAI: If there’s one common thread among the numerous creative endeavors of Saudi Arabia’s new wave of art, it’s that there’s no one way to define the Saudi experience. Take, “Crashing Eid,” the Kingdom’s first female-led Netflix original series, for example. The trailer has already generated fierce debate ahead of the show’s October 19 release thanks to its atypical narrative that tackles societal romantic taboos head on. Some have commented that the show does not represent all Saudi women — but, as its creator Saudi filmmaker Nora Aboushousha explains, it was never intended to. Rather, the irreverent and heartfelt comedy’s singular nature is precisely the point.
“Our show does not represent every Saudi voice. It represents one Saudi voice. From the start, that was our guiding principle,” Aboushousha tells Arab News. “When we began writing, we had to accept that this story and its characters do not exemplify every person in Saudi Arabia. Razan, our lead character, is not a stand-in for every Saudi woman, and her family members are also not an encapsulation of all Saudi families. These people, their boundaries, their cultural and social beliefs are their own.”
Razan is certainly unlike any lead character we’ve met before in Saudi fiction. She’s a single mother living in London with her teenage daughter. In the show’s opening scene, she proposes marriage to a British-Pakistani man she is friends with, and quickly learns, as she returns home to Jeddah for Eid al-Fitr celebrations, that her family does not approve of the pairing. The conflict only worsens when the man himself flies to Saudi Arabia to join the festivities.
For Aboushousha, capturing an atypical Saudi family in the midst of perhaps the biggest internal conflict of their lives was informed both by real life and, more importantly, the history of television. Great stories often make audiences feel seen, but comedy is a different beast. When the goal is to make the audience laugh, characters often can’t act like a ‘normal’ person, nor do everyday scenarios always work. The best comedic characters are unique — that’s what makes them memorable. In Aboushousha’s view, there’s no better way to immerse yourself in the life of someone entirely unlike you than through comedy.
“Some people will feel all of this is similar to them, but other people won’t, and that’s exactly how we want it,” she says. “We want to make great Saudi television, and sometimes you don’t want to watch someone who is like you — you want to discover something different. If you find our series relatable, it’s there for you too, but great Saudi television needs to entertain everyone, not represent everyone.”
Jeddah-born Aboushousha is a rising star in the Kingdom, with her one-location lockdown crime series “Rahin Altaqiq” and dramedy about rebellious young Saudi women “Confessions” both becoming viral hits over the last few years. The writer-director is no stranger to pushing boundaries; her short film about oft-ignored mental health struggles, “Lucky You Are Mine,” won a production grant from the Saudi Film Commission before debuting at the 2022 Red Sea International Film Festival in her hometown to strong acclaim. That short has since caught the eye of Netflix, which will grant it a worldwide release on the platform this month ahead of the “Crashing Eid” premiere.
The idea for “Crashing Eid” began as a creative exercise. She and her writing partner Ali Alatta had heard that Netflix was looking for something similar to a number of the shows they’d already produced, and when analyzing them, she realized they often had one common thread: “A person who was different from their family,” she explains.
“That’s all we had to work with. So we began discussing it, and Ali started using me as an example. He said to me, ‘I feel your own family is a bit worried about what you’re going to do next, Nora. So let’s base this on a character like you, a single mother.’ I don’t think my family is like that, but we carried on anyway,” Aboushousha says with a laugh.
“Soon, the idea became a single mother who returns from abroad. We started wondering, ‘What will inspire the clash with the rest of the family?’ And immediately we realized, ‘Oh, she should come back ready to be married to someone from outside the culture!’ Everything fell into place from there,” she continues.
While the show’s comedic nature meant that situations and characters would be drawn to extremes, Aboushousha still wanted the show to feel grounded in real human experience. So she began meeting with couples and interviewing them about their lives in order to hear real stories and observe actual dynamics so that she could better inform the work.
“We met with a lot of Saudi women who had married into a different culture. For a lot of these women, trying to convince their families to accept a person they didn’t want was not funny for them at the time — there were a lot of tears. But, for most of them, just like with any situation, you can laugh about certain aspects with time,” says Aboushousha. “We were definitely inspired by those conversations. One woman, for example, told us that her father assumed the man was a spy because he was a foreigner who spoke Arabic, which we had to include because we thought it was really funny.
“So it all started off as a person who’s similar to me, but that only lasted for a week or two. Quickly, when we combined that with the interviews and started thinking about how to make it more entertaining, the character took on a life of her own, with different layers being added. The first layer would be based on something real — a true story or a personality trait — and then you start adding layers of fiction to suit the material, and then the actors come in and breathe life into them and that adds layers as well,” she continues.
Ultimately, while reality did inform Aboushousha and her collaborators, what was most important was making the show as good as possible. She studied the scripts of shows such as HBO’s massive hit “The White Lotus” and the hit Ben Stiller comedy “Meet the Parents” and tried to make sure that each scene matched that level. After all, as Saudi films and television shows hit the world stage it’s important not only to communicate the intricacies of Saudi social dynamics to the world but also to raise Saudi content to global standards.
“At the end of the day, we had to make sure that all of this was making not just us laugh, but all of our friends and families — everyone we know,” says Aboushousha. “Throughout this whole process, we really just worked tirelessly to ensure that we had something that was good.”