Netflix’s ‘Mo’ is a comedy-drama that follows the story of the eponymous character. Created by Mohammed Amer, who is also its lead actor, the show centers around the experience of a Palestinian family living in Houston and serves as an entertaining watch that mixes the culture and traditions of two very different environments, the contrast of which defines some basic struggles in Mo’s life. The show is full of laughter, but it also has a serious undercurrent, particularly when it focuses on being a refugee living in America. There have been many similar shows, each with its own setting and storytelling style, and each at least partially inspired by the lives of its creators. Is the same true for ‘Mo’? Is it based on Mo Amer’s life? Let’s find out.
Is Mo Based on Mo Amer’s Life?
Yes, Netflix’s ‘Mo’ is based on the life of its creator Mo Amer, though only to some extent. While the show draws inspiration from real-life incidents, the story of ‘Mo’ takes its own course and can be called a fictionalized account of Amer’s life.
Much like Mo, Amer comes from a Palestinian background and was raised in Kuwait. When he turned nine years old, his family had to leave Kuwait to find a better life. They settled in Houston, Texas. Amer, a fluent Spanish speaker, was mistaken for being Latino growing up. This is also evident in his Netflix series. For a long time, Amer had been dreaming of creating a story about a Palestinian boy living in Texas. The series was originally about a teenage life. But, by the time he made it, the protagonist was more mature.
While filming ‘Ramy’, Amer discussed the story with Ramy Youssef, who serves as the executive producer for ‘Mo’. While it was fascinating to draw from his own experiences and make the story relatable for the audience, it was also a daunting task to create a story that would not only be about the Palestinian refugee experience but also entertain the audience. Amer also didn’t want it to be a sad story because it was about refugees. “I have to remind people it’s a comedy because being Palestinian is pretty depressing sometimes. At the same time, some of the funniest people I know are Palestinian just because of how much pain they’ve gone through,” he said.
While ‘Mo’ is a comedy series, there are things, at its heart, that makes the audience think about all the unimaginable things that people have to survive in war-torn countries, and what it means to leave their life, and sometimes their families, behind. In writing the arc of Mo’s father in the show, Amer drew parallels with his own father’s life. Amer’s father was a telecommunications engineer who had to stay behind in Kuwait while he sent his family away to America. He reunited his family after two years, and died a few decades later. “My father had disappeared, and we didn’t know where he was; he was taken away. There were things going on that I found out about many years later that astound me to this day,” he said.
In the show too, Mo’s father is left behind in Kuwait, and it isn’t until much later that Mo discovers that his father had suffered torture while he was separated from his family. While the Netflix series doesn’t yet go into the details of how Mo’s father was brought back, in real life, Amer’s mother went back to Kuwait for six months to bring back her husband. Calling her a “gangster”, Amer considers his mother the most inspirational person in his life. To give more depth to Mo’s family, Amer talked with her about certain things that found their way into the series. One of them is the scene that shows Mo and his family leaving Kuwait after their bus was stopped by soldiers.
Much like in ‘Mo’, Amer’s mother hid money in different places to ensure that they had enough to make it to America. They were travelling in a bus with several families when they were stopped by Baghdad. “They were just breaking suitcases and taking the money from everyone. My mom took out her razor and made two money belts. One for her and one to give to my sister. Because at that time, they didn’t search women,” Amer said. To make it look like their stuff was checked, she messed around with the contents of their suitcases to fool soldiers who let them go, without checking their luggage.
Amer also included the fact that it took him nearly two decades to obtain American citizenship. The show portrays the difficult and frustrating process with a lot of intimacy. Amer said it was a cathartic experience to include such details in the story. “This is TV, sure, but this is my life. There’s stuff we’re going to fictionalize, but it’s heavily inspired by what’s really happened. It’s about tipping a hat to the ones that afforded me the opportunity to have a life in America, to have a dream, to pursue it, and be supported while doing it. It’s a thank you. It’s a love letter to Houston for raising me, a love letter to my family, to my ancestors. That’s what it’s really about,” he said.
Read More: Where is Netflix’s Mo Filmed?