A dramedy series – Created by Maor Zagouri
What if the Oedipus Rex tragedy took place in a
Moroccan-American family in the suburbs of Chicago?
“In our family, there are only three seasons – winter, summer, and war.”
– Iman, sister number four
This is the story of the Soultan family, Moroccan immigrants blessed with many children. The Soultan family is comprised of two parents, eight children, and one grandmother all living in one small, four room apartment in Alston, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. The family owns a storied spice shop – “The Four Seasons” – in downtown Chicago. It is the only source of income and support for the entire Soultan household.
The Soultan family is an empire in its own eyes. They act like royalty despite the reality that they are lower working class and not a single one of them has a steady job. Most of them support themselves with odd jobs, a little government assistance, a little from the family business, and even some petty crime – which is how they contribute, against their wills, to the finances of the shared household. Every member of the family dreams of “getting a break and making it big to save his life.” But until that day, all the children still live with their parents in the small, crowded apartment, driving them to constant fighting, cruelty, cursing, arguing, and laughter. The Soultans are manipulative, sneaky bastards who know how to handle any situation. Although several of them dropped out of school, they’re all smart asses with street smarts and sharp tongues. In short – the Arab version of the Kardashians. With no money.
The Soultan family is part of an old, Muslim immigrant community in Chicago – a community in which they are known as problematic, mostly because the father of the household, OMAR, is always picking fights and arguing with his neighbors, with the other members of the community, and even with the honorable sheikh. Despite that, and despite their controversial opinions and tendency to cause all kinds of embarrassments, the colorful family is deeply appreciated because everyone knows that when push comes to shove, they will always be there to help and support their community – the closest thing they have to a homeland in America.
The Soultan Family Tree –
The father, OMAR (55), the mother, AMIRA (52), the eldest daughter, YASMIN (31), AHMED (29), MUHAMMED (aka MICHAEL, the protagonist 25) IMAN (24), AMIN (23), MUSTAFA (20), KASSAM (16) and AISHA (14) the baby girl. Also living with them is their cranky grandmother, AIDA (73).
In the first episode, we meet our protagonist, Michael who changed his name from Muhammed. Michael is a US Marine who has been in Iraq for three years. He is a well-respected and high ranking officer, and the soldiers in his unit admire him – they see him as a symbol of the new patriot.
One day, while stationed with his unit in Iraq, he gets a phone call from home; his mother calls to break the news that his grandfather IBRAHIM (80), her father, is dying and his last wish is to see Michael – his favorite grandson.
Some Background: Grandpa Ibrahim was the first spice trader to emigrate from Morocco to Chicago in the sixties, (after watching “Casablanca”) taking a big step forward on the path to the American dream. Aboard the ship en route to America, Ibrahim met an orphan boy, (Omar) and adopted him. For years, Ibrahim who had always wanted a son, raised Omar as his own child, under his roof and eating from his plate. But when Omar fell in love with Ibrahim’s only daughter, Amira, he refused to give him her hand. The young couple married without his blessing, and after the wedding, Ibrahim decided to disown his family, sell his business and return to Morocco where he would not feel like an immigrant – but like a true sultan. But fate had other plans. Grandpa Ibrahim was stripped of his money and all he had left was a small spice store in downtown Chicago called “Spice Odyssey.” One month after the wedding, Omar, his adopted son, did the only thing his “father” ever taught him how to do and opened a competing shop across the street: “The Four Seasons.” The spice war had begun, and Omar, being more modern and advanced – won. Grandfather Ibrahim’s spice shop closed forever.
Back to the Present: Michael is called home to depart from his dying grandfather. From his death bed, the grandfather makes Michael/Muhammad swear a kassam – a vow that cannot be broken: Michael must reopen his spice shop again and restore the family’s honor that his father, Omar, destroyed. Ibrahim bequeaths to Michael the store that has stood empty for 30 years on the very same street corner across from where his own father’s store still stands – the most famous spice shop in Chicago known for its famous, secret recipe. Michael, who was kicked out of the house and sent to a military boarding school at age 15, and who cut all ties with his family, religion, and Moroccan culture, returns home against his will, to fulfill the oath he swore to his grandfather. But his return places him on the frontlines facing off with his father, Omar, and Iman, his sister – “the queen of the house” – with whom he has a bloody and unresolved history from their youth.
The members of the large family who are suddenly faced with the return of their sibling, ignore Michael and the new values he has accrued out in the world. Michael is now the exact opposite of the rest of them; he is an atheist, a vegetarian, and he has denounced his Moroccan heritage. “I am American and that’s it,” he says. His father, angry and deeply disappointed by his son’s decision to enlist in the army and fight against his own people – the Arabs, calls his son a traitor. “You have betrayed your culture in order to be accepted by the enlightened West.” They get caught in a stormy argument and Omar throws Michael out of the house – for the second time in his life. Michael, whose life had been on track to a respectable career, jumps at the opportunity, longing to flee back to the army. But the time he spent back at home strengthened the feeling that he can no longer deny his roots. And the oath he swore to his grandfather – becomes his life’s mission.
The grandfather dies and during the funeral the family holds to honor his memory, they are in fact disrespectful and scornful. With the desecration of his memory and disregard for honoring the dead, they bring upon themselves a La’anah, a curse by their grandfather’s sister, a witch who seeks to punish them for their disrespectful behavior. From now on – they are cursed. “Their luck will fail, they will fight, get sick, and lose everything.” Great. That’s all they needed. A series of unfortunate events befall the family.
“I don’t know if everything that’s happening to us is because of the curse, or if it’s because we believe in the curse, that all of this is happening to us…”
– Aisha, sister number eight
The family begins to tear apart. As a result of the spice war that erupts within the family, Michael decides to accept his maktub, his destiny, takes a leave of absence from the army and moves back into the home he grew up in. And thus, against the wishes of his father and with the support of his mother, he heads out to fulfill his grandfather’s last wish – to vanquish his father, thereby fulfilling the curse and destroying the family. The war between the two spice establishments begins. It starts with lowering prices until they’re selling at a loss, and then there are reports to the health authorities, repossessions, a slander campaign, shaming within the community, vandalism, and even violence. The only thing that makes this war different than any other war, is that at the end of each day, the enemies come home to sleep in the same little house where they share a bathroom, the beds, the food, and the holidays.
Yet, this is not the same Michael the siblings remember from their childhood. While he was far away from them, Michael became a tajrerab – a stranger. He changed his given name and his family name, absorbed western values, abandoned his Moroccan identity, and adopted the lifestyle, the speech and thinking – of an American intellectual. And now, from the moment he has returned home, Michael tries to re-educate the members of the family in the strict ways of the military that are familiar to him. Of course, the family rejects his attempts, and his condescension quickly leads to an explosion. And through all this, standing before him, is his beautiful sister, Iman, for whom Michael’s presence is like a mirror, reflecting everything she could have been, if she weren’t stuck in her father’s house. She is jealous of him, and despite his best efforts, Michael is jealous of her; she got to stay in the warm loving home that was absent to him for so many years. Their relationship turns to blistering hatred, like only true lovers can hate one another – a hatred whose source is love for a shared past.
With all this, are peppered the storylines of the other members of the family who also stir up the household:
The family is up in arms. Grandfather Ibrahim’s frighteningly precise and systematic plan to take revenge is underway. The curse has been heard. And until they discover a way to reverse it, the Soultan family will know no peace.
This is an up to date, modern story about the other America, the America of the third generation of immigrants. The America of the Arabs who live within it, fighting to transform themselves from a handful of immigrants to a recognized diaspora. The America where Muslims represent the primal fear of the largest democracy in the world. The America where there are still Americans who say that “Muslims are responsible for 9/11” without realizing that for those same Muslims, America is home.
This is the story of the most ancient battle there is: a battle between generations, a battle between Gen Y who were born in today’s America and are loyal only to her and are willing to fight for her, and between the older generation for whom “home” is the home that was left behind, beyond the sea somewhere in North Africa, in Casablanca, in Morocco, where they were born and educated. It’s an intimate battle within a single household that evolves into a family saga. It’s a Greek tragedy based on Sophocles’ tragedy, “Oedipus Rex,” in which the fate of the protagonist is determined at his birth, a fate where every attempt to escape it, will lead only to its bitter end, a fate which calls upon its hero to kill his father and marry his mother. And the price paid, as always, is the price of his identity as an individual.