Kumail Nanjiani on Not Wanting ‘Little America’ to Focus on the Political System

Danielle Turchiano

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Apple TV Plus’s anthology drama “Little America” may not be about politics, but by telling tales of immigrants in a polarizing time, many people feel there is a political undercurrent to its themes.

“It is amazing that we are living in a time where kindness, empathy, humanity and shared experience feels like a political statement,” said executive producer Sian Heder. “It felt like an act of resistance just to put these stories out there with empathy.”

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Little America” Season 1 consists of eight episodes that each centers on a different immigrant story across different geographic regions in both the country of origin as well as in the area of America in which they settle when they move here. Each episode also spans different amounts of time. This was designed specifically to show the berth of the immigrant experience.

Executive producer Kumail Nanjiani said that “from the beginning,” the team behind “Little America” didn’t want to present a political show with a specific agenda.

If you make an immigrant’s story overtly political in the narrative structure of the episode, Nanjiani continued, “you’re taking the focus away from the person’s story and you’re putting it on the political system in America. And we didn’t want that.”

However, he acknowledged that simply saying immigrants with hopes and dreams and rights is seen as a political statement today, and he knows that means some people won’t want to tune into the show at all — but he also said he hopes the show will make “the immigrant debate feel a bit more concrete.”

The first season of “Little America” follows immigrants such places as Nigeria, Uganda, China and Syria. It also features an episode (“The Silence”) that centers on a “white, blonde, beautiful” immigrant, Heder pointed out, because many people have an idea of what an immigrant looks like, but the truth is there is a greater diversity than for which stereotypes allow.

When looking for immigrant stories to publish in Epic Magaine, Joshuah Bearman, who also executive produces “Little America,” said they had about 100 stories that they were interested in and which they vetted by detailed research and interview processes with the subjects of the stories. Fifteen of those were published. Not all eight of the stories in Season 1 of “Little America” came from those 15, though; “The Grand Expo Prize Winners,” for example, was an original story that writer and director Tze Chun pitched when he met with the producing team. Similarly, in the second season, there will be a story that executive producer Lee Eisenberg got from an Uber driver. He also said he hopes to someday tell his own Israeli immigrant father’s story.

“We’re looking for the stories everywhere,” Eisenberg said.

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