Netflix’s ‘Mo’ is a comedy-drama that follows the eponymous character and centers around the experience of a Palestinian family living in Houston. It 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 created by Ramy Youssef and Mohammed Amer, who is also its lead actor.
Full of hearty laughs, the show also has a serious undercurrent, especially when it directly focuses on being a refugee in America. By now, a lot of similar shows have surfaced, each unique in its setting and the manner of storytelling, and each at least partially based on the lives of its creator. 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 co-creator Mohammed “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 his character Mo, Amer is of Palestinian background and was born in Kuwait. When he was 9 years old, his family was forced to leave behind their life in Kuwait and flee to America, where they made a home for themselves in Houston, Texas.
Growing up, Amer, who speaks fluent Spanish, was often mistaken for being Latino, something that is also reflected in the Netflix show. The idea to create a story around a Palestinian boy living in Texas had been germinating in his mind for a very long time. At first, it was something that revolves around the life of a teenager, but by the time he got around to making the series, the age of the protagonist shifted more towards adulthood. While filming ‘Ramy,’ Amer discussed the story with Ramy Youssef, who serves as the co-creator for ‘Mo.’
While it’s interesting to draw from his own experiences, Amer also had the humungous task of putting together a story that would not only focus on the Palestinian and the refugee experience but also be an engaging watch for the audience. Amer also didn’t want it to be a sad story just because it’s 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 told Esquire Middle East.
While ‘Mo’ is a comedy series, there are things at its heart that make the audience think about all the unimaginable things 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 with them after a few years but died a few years later while Amer was 14.
“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,” Amer told Texas Monthly. 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 go into the details of how Mo’s father was brought back, in real life, Amer’s mother went back to Kuwait for nine months to bring back her husband.
Calling his mother 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 where we see Mo and his family leaving Kuwait when their bus is 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. Amer and his family were traveling in a bus with other families when they were stopped in Baghdad.
Elaborating on the incident, Amer said, “They were just breaking suitcases and taking the money from everyone. My mom grabbed a razor, she cut a clean line behind each zipper, on each side of her purse, and she made two custom money belts, one for her and one for my sister. Because at that time, they didn’t search women.” To make it look like their stuff had been checked, Amer’s mother messed up the things inside the suitcase, successfully misleading the soldiers who let them go without going through their luggage.
Another key detail that Amer incorporated into the Netflix production is the fact that it took him around two decades to get American citizenship. The long and trying process and its frustration are portrayed in the show with a biting intimacy. Incorporating such details into the story made it a very special endeavor for Amer, who called it a cathartic experience.
Amer added, “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.” Considering all the things that Amer has incorporated into the show, it is clear that while some things have been fictionalized, the events in ‘Mo’ are loosely based on his life.
Read More: Where is Netflix’s Mo Filmed?