Marwan Salama’s Navid Doesn’t Need Validation
by Ashley Morton
HBO: Who is Navid to you? What is he searching for?
Marwan Salama: I think Navid is a teenager first: He loves video games and comics, hence his room with many, many books. But Navid is also someone who takes his faith to heart and is comfortable in his own skin. He isn’t afraid to explore his gender identity and say “no” to socially constructed ideas of what it means to be a man or a woman. He wants to be able to express himself anywhere; he’s not looking for validation. Hiding who you are and how you want to express yourself can be so inhibiting and frustrating, and he’s looking for the freedom to be himself.
HBO: Do you feel the show is unique in its representation of so many different kinds of people?
Marwan Salama: I’ve seen reviews that say the show is trying too hard to fit in every category of person — trying to squeeze in all these different people — but the thing is, it’s not that this show is trying too hard, it’s that every other show doesn’t accurately represent what America looks like.
This show is a representation of what I see every day, going outside, at work, at school and the grocery store. Someone out there is going to be able to see some part of themselves in this character or one of the other characters, and that’s a really good start in accurately representing the country we live in today.
HBO: What felt like the biggest challenge when it came to approaching the part of Navid?
Marwan Salama: Realizing how broad the term “gender fluid” is. And there isn’t really anything to base Navid on because it looks different for every person. As a gender fluid person, your gender identity is constantly changing so there was a lot of room for exploration
HBO: Did you discuss any research about gender fluidity with creator Alan Ball?
Marwan Salama: Definitely. And not just with Alan, but with the writing team as a whole. They were so open to input, and we would change dialogue because of new terminology I learned, or maybe realizing something was too general.
Gender fluid goes under the transgender category technically, but there are two categories under that. There’s binary, which would be if you were born into a male body but you identify as a female body, and vice-versa. And there’s non-binary which is gender fluid, more like when you are changing in-between the spectrum of male and female.
We would also talk about important distinctions to make, especially between sexual orientation and gender identity, because they are very often interchanged but are definitely not the same. I looked at interviews, and articles, and was able to talk to people who are either gender fluid themselves or are very close friends with gender fluid people, to really understand their perspective. It’s one thing to read about something, but hearing everyday stories was really helpful to me.
HBO: What surprised you about Navid’s storyline?
Marwan Salama: Honestly, I thought he was going to be a lot more restricted at home, and I thought he was going to take what his father said to heart. I know he didn’t like hearing what his father said in Episode 3 “If a Deer Sh*ts in the Woods” and having to express who he is solely at home, but as the episodes went on, I realized how brave Navid is. He’s so young and he stands so strongly for what he believes in.
HBO: Does Navid feel supported by his father?
Marwan Salama: Overall he has a healthy relationship with his parents because they’re so open-minded and I think that’s really important. But in terms of how he feels about his father, I don’t think he feels like his father is trying to stop him from expressing who he is, but whether or not he can support it is a bit more complicated. I think he wants to support his son and give him the freedom to be happy, but he sees the worst in people before the best, unlike Navid. In his mind he’s being realistic, but for Navid it might feel like pessimism.
HBO: Why does Kristen attract Navid’s attention?
Marwan Salama: Kristen is someone who’s obviously searching for her own identity, but has no problem expressing how she feels. She’s very honest and funny, and if there’s hypocrisy or a double standard, she’ll call it out right away. That can be a really attractive quality, especially for Navid who is in an age group when everyone is trying to not stand out too much. High school can be a very difficult place but he knows in his heart that Kristen is going to accept and embrace him for who he is.
HBO: Could you talk about Navid’s relationship to religion?
Marwan Salama: I think, regardless of what people will tell you, religion is a personal relationship between yourself and whatever it is you believe. Navid is someone that has strong faith, but he’s not a blind follower; he asks questions.
For Navid, it’s a support system, especially the local Muslim community which he participates strongly in. Navid shows you can be a religious person without needing to shove it down someone else’s throat.