“House of Gods,” a Matchbox Pictures six-part series, boasting an entirely Arab Australian cast, presents a perspective seldom seen on screen, a Muslim community in Fairfield, Australia. 

“You can’t manufacture authenticity. Audiences are so intuitive and adept, they can smell if something is off a mile away. So for us, having actors who understood the idiosyncrasies of Arab/Muslim culture added an intangible layer of soul to the show,” explained Osamah Sami, co-creator and one of the stars of the show. 

“We both were raised in a religious setting where culture, traditions and spiritual beliefs govern daily lives. Immigration often reinforces our desire to cling on to our motherland customs even tighter” Shahin Shafaei co-creator shared with Variety. “As storytellers, we have both previously highlighted the lived experiences of our community in film and theater. But with ‘House of Gods’ we found an opportunity to explore this “living organism” which is the community in a deeper way. ”

Osamah Sami’s childhood was marked by displacement in Iran amidst the Iran-Iraq conflict, a narrative he later recounted in his award-winning novel, “Good Muslim Boy.” 

Similarly, Shahin Shafaei’s creative expression with his play in Iran led to dire consequences, forcing him to flee. His perilous journey to Australia culminated in a lengthy detention, including a significant period in solitary confinement, after being intercepted at Ashmore Reef.

The narrative of “House of Gods” begins deep in suburban Fairfield, with an electoral contest for head cleric of the local mosque. It’s a duel between the progressive Sheikh Mohammad, portrayed by the magnetic Kamel El Basha, and the conservative Seyyed Shaaker (Simon Elrahi). A contentious photograph threatens Sheikh Mohammad’s campaign, yet he secures a narrow 4-3 victory, a win corruptedly secured by his son, Isa (Osamah Sami), through vote manipulation—a naive deal with consequences.

The series casts a rich portrayal of the community, too often overly simplified on screen. “For a long time now, Muslims have been talked about but are rarely heard or listened to. ‘House of Gods’ is a story about the inner workings of a community never seen in this way; and the hope, God-willing, is that diasporic communities will finally feel seen in all their colors.” Sami says. 

“This isn’t a sanitized portrayal of Muslims, nor is it a story intended to feed offensive stereotypes. It is an authentic depiction of a community, which I genuinely believe is relatable to anyone. Love, betrayal, and a sense of duty to one’s family are universal human experiences after all.” 

A particularly striking and fresh aspect of “House of Gods” is its focus on female Muslim experiences, with Maia Abbas as Batul the confident and assertive daughter of Sheik Mohammad. “These are the women we know, love and grew up with. We are just highlighting the vital role they play in our community.” says Shahin. 

Osamah Sami agrees: “They helped us with our schoolwork, answered our silly questions, cuddled us when we were afraid. Unfortunately, the narrative we often digest about Muslim or Arab women is one of oppression and voicelessness. But women in our societies are lionesses. And it was our duty to showcase this truth. Also, how awesome is it to see uniquely individual women in hijabs kick ass on screen?”

There is an overarching theme of coexistence embedded here, “We can respect others’ culture without adopting them. We can be proud of our new home but still proud of who we are,” Kamel El Basha’s character preaches at one point in his bid for leadership.

“We wanted to say, yes, we may come from different places and have different customs or cultures, but why not celebrate these differences? Why choose to see them as thorns pricking at our own identities?” Sami says.

With projects such as Emmy winner “Safe Harbour,” and Cate Blanchett starrer “Stateless,” Matchbox Pictures has consistently aimed to elevate Australian production to appeal internationally. 

“Producing shows from perspectives and voices rarely represented is part of the Matchbox Pictures DNA.” Debbie Lee, executive producer and director of scripted at Matchbox Pictures, told Variety adding “We’re so proud of ‘House of Gods’ as a prime example of introducing audiences to an unfamiliar world from the inside—a world with complex, specific, and relatable characters. I genuinely believe that the more specific you make something, the more universal it becomes, and absolutely think it’s what makes a show like this globally appealing. Telling these stories is vital, but without the support of our partners at the ABC in Australia, ‘House of Gods’ simply would not have been possible.”

Shahin sums up “House of Gods” as “ultimately a family drama that happens to be set in a Mosque. It is an entertaining show filled with complicated family dynamics, power struggles, and workplace conflicts. It is all these things, and an exploration into the cultural nuances of a community trying to call a new country home.” 

It has its international premiere at France’s Series Mania this week, having recently broadcast on ABC Australia. With Matchbox Pictures being part of Universal International Studios, a division of Universal Studio Group, international sales are handled by NBCUniversal Global TV Distribution.