You might know Kathreen Khavari, an Iranian-American actress, as the voice of Muslim Ms. Marvel in the popular Avengers Assemble cartoon series. She is also unleashing a Reign of Terror in response to Donald Trump and the current state of America.
Reign of Terror is a three-part YouTube series that follows a focus group seemingly organized to discuss government spending on space exploration, but soon, the easily distracted eclectic cast of characters end up contemplating and debating a Trump presidency instead.
Co-written with Chuck Neal, the series is a follow-up to the successful 2014 YouTube sketch, Brain on Terror, which Khavari herself wrote, funded and produced in response to the demonization of Middle Easterners. “Media imagery is incredibly unfair and one-sided. [It is often] curated to manipulate the masses into following a political agenda,” explains a frustrated Khavari.
The sketch, rooted in Khavari’s personal experiences, stars a young woman who falls into an identity crisis because of the self-doubts around her Middle Eastern heritage. The response to Brain on Terror (it was picked up by Upworthy) caught the attention of a cable TV show, which then asked Khavari and Neal to write Reign of Terror. After filming three episodes however, the show fell through, so Khavari decided to post the series on YouTube.
Reign of Terror explores hot button issues like gun control and reproductive rights. The series includes eight female characters, all played by Khavari. Some are the same ones featured on Brain on Terror. Khavari felt it was important that the series code-switched certain stereotypes prevalent in America. For example, she plays a Southern woman who holds extremely liberal views, but is always mistaken for being politically conservative and narrow-minded. Then there is a grandmother who is loud, sexually liberated, and dabbles in drugs. Khavari also plays a Muslim woman who has just arrived from a war torn country, but has to put on bright disposition so Americans don’t label her as hostile or suppressed.
The actress says that all the characters are based on people she has met, including the racist German woman. “I traveled to Zanzibar last year and this woman ran the Airbnb. She regarded the locals with such overt disdain! She’d say ‘Us Westerners have a better work ethnic than the Africans.’” Khavari, laughs, “And, she was a child psychologist before she moved to Africa.”
With much her family still living in Iran, Khavari visits them every other year and relays that they are deeply concerned about America’s presidential race. “They think Trump is a terrible, terrible candidate,” she shares. “At first, his bid for the presidency was absurd to the point of being humorous a, but now my relatives find it just plain frightening.”
While foreign policy may sit beyond her sphere of influence, projects like Reign of Terror allow Khavari to use her creativity to offer a counter narrative. As an Iranian-American actress, Khavari has dealt with typecasting, and it was those very limiting experiences led to an uncompromising and principled approach to her career.
“I’m very selective about the roles I take,” she explains. “I try to be cognizant of the portrayal of Iranian and Muslim people in any project that I do. I’m not going to play a terrorist, no matter how nuanced. I don’t want to do any projects that portray my people in a negative light. “
With the seemingly interminable election season over in just one more day, Trump may ascend to the Oval Office, or he may fade back into the dimension of reality TV. The final episode of Reign of Terror brings the story to a satirical (and alarming) ending regarding what a Trumped-up world might look like.
Meanwhile, Khavari is busy making America spectacular. She is currently writing an autobiographical sitcom about growing up as one of the few Iranian families in Oakland, California during the early 1980s. And, Khavari is landing impressive roles. In 2017, she will appear in HBO’s series, Big Little Lies, with Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman.
If this is what a reign of terror looks like, then we’ll take it.