'I was Roseanne's Muslim neighbour': A cast-mate reflects on the tweet that obliterated his job.

You may not know actor Alain Washnevsky by name, but he’s appeared on Homeland, Curb Your Enthusiasm, NCIS: Los Angeles, Aquarius and SEAL Team.

And now he’s written about his experience playing the Conner’s Muslim neighbour on the Roseanne reboot, for The Hollywood Reporter.

The reprised show was cancelled last week due to a racist tweet that Roseanne Barr posted, which referred to former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett looking like the offspring of the “Muslim Brotherhood & Planet of the Apes.” (Jarrett, an African-American, was born in Iran to American parents.)

ABC president Channing Dungey immediately issued a scathing statement, calling Barr’s behaviour “abhorrent, repugnant, and inconsistent with our values.”
The cancellation produced a significant reaction on social media, and naturally, amongst the cast. But Washnevsky, a lessor-known actor, felt he needed to publish his thoughts in a prominent way.
In his eloquent guest column, Iranian-born Washnevsky revealed he was very surprised when he heard about Barr’s tweet, and deeply saddened to learn of the cancellation. The opportunity to play Samir Al-Harazi in the seventh episode, titled “Go Cubs,” had been a dream come true. He viewed it as an “enormous responsibility to represent a demographic that is often not well-portrayed on TV.”

In his essay, Washnevsky described his first meeting with Barr, saying she gave him a warm hug and told him, “Welcome aboard.”

“I got to know her as a funny, helpful and real person,” the actor wrote, which is why he was so surprised to learn of her racist tweet.

“I was so shocked, angry and hurt. Her words go against everything I believe in and everything that our episode represented.”

Interestingly, Barr herself was the driving force behind the Muslim-themed episode. In a behind the scenes video about the episode posted by The Wrap, Barr revealed she came up with the idea of her character being fearful of her Muslim neighbours because “she has heard so many things on the news, and so she has a lot of pre-conceived notions.”

Washnevsky noted that he was particularly disappointed that the show was cancelled; not just for himself personally, but also because it was a lost opportunity to raise awareness about race and racial tension.

“Samir was the face and voice of many people in this country and all over the world who deal with racism on a daily basis in all kinds of forms. His story is an everyday story.”

Washnevsky revealed that he found Barr pleasant company and interesting to interact with.

“I got to hang out with Roseanne and we shared several really interesting conversations,” he wrote, adding Barr would respectfully ask questions about his background.

The actor expressed his sincere regret for everyone involved in the show, who had contributed so much time and energy into it, and who depended on it for their livelihoods.

In an emotional paragraph, Washnevsky also expressed some intimate feelings about race:

“I relate to Samir’s story in many ways. I have experienced racism my whole life and I still do. Every day. Sometimes more obvious and sometimes not. It’s like being in the gutter — if you stand in it long enough, you get used to the smell.”

Profoundly, he concluded with a very astute observation:

“Racism is not an American problem. It’s a human condition and humanitarian problem and must be explored on TV and in film. Storytelling has the power to connect and build bridges, open dialogue, build understanding, create awareness and change perspective. We need that now more than ever.”

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