Boise refugee's story inspires episode of new Apple TV show

Posted at 7:46 PM, Feb 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-10 00:19:32-05

BOISE, Idaho — A Boise man's story of hope and resilience is now being seen around the world.

Shadi Ismail is a gay Syrian refugee whose real-life story inspired the series finale episode of Little America, a new Apple TV show highlighting immigrants in the U.S.

"Seeing my whole life, living it, and seeing the actor live in my emotion, it just brought tears to my eyes," Ismail said. "We couldn't stop crying, all of us."

In 30 minutes, the episode titled "The Son" shows Ismail's years-long fight for freedom after his traditional Syrian family found out he was gay.

"I did know one time in Jordan, when I gave up and wanted to take my life, I knew I was meant for something bigger than myself," Ismail said.

Watching the show on a couch next to his husband, he says it's not just his story anymore. It's about so many others who can see themselves in his character named Rafiq.

"I feel now my light is lighting so many people's way; to see you can make it, you can do it," Ismail said. "I came here speaking zero English, I lost everything, built everything from the beginning because sometimes you have to lose everything to gain everything."

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"You know, stories like this need to be heard," Ismail's husband Ian Guthrie said. "People need healing because everybody has a story, and if something within his story speaks to them, that may help them through whatever they're going through."

Production for the show started in 2018, but Ismail says his episode almost didn't happen because of the travel ban put into place in 2017. Some of the episode's actors are from the affected countries, so the crew shot the show in Canada.

His entire life, he longed to see a story he could relate to on TV, and now it's his story, featuring an Arabic gay actor, inspiring others.

"I had the experience, I had the pain, the suffering, but now I can turn it into something better so people can believe you have hope, you can make it anywhere you go, you can find home when you want to be home," Ismail said.

Still, the story is too controversial for some societies. The episode has been banned in nearly a dozen countries.

The original 12 stories featured in Epic Magazine are being published into a book which will be available for purchase next month. Apple TV has already signed on for the second season of Little America.