Somali Rapper K’naan Teams Up with Kathryn Bigelow + HBO for 'Mogadishu, Minnesota' (Cast Announced)
Photo Credit: S & A

Somali Rapper K’naan Teams Up with Kathryn Bigelow + HBO for 'Mogadishu, Minnesota' (Cast Announced)


Last fall, Somali rapper/poet K’naan teamed up with HBO and director Kathryn Bigelow for a drama series titled “The Recruiters,” which K’naan was to write, direct and executive produce.

The series was to be set in Minnesota, and would “draw open an iron curtain behind which viewers will see the highly impenetrable world of Jihadi recruitment,” according to press release at the time.

For those unaware, a significant number of Somali immigrants in the USA are settled in Minnesota, which, according to the Immigration Policy Center, has been home to the largest population of Somalis in North America since around 2012. The city of Minneapolis in particular hosts hundreds of Somali-owned and operated commercial ventures. Current estimates say that about one third of Somali Americans live in Minnesota. Federal and Minnesota authorities have long struggled with the problem of Somali Americans leaving to join al-Shabab, with Islamic State becoming another destination for terrorist sympathizers in recent years.

It’s not clear what happened to “The Recruiters”; but it might have evolved, and is now titled “Mogadishu, Minnesota,” which, announced today by HBO, is more of a straight family drama, centered on a Somali family living in Minneapolis grappling with what it means to be American.

The network has ordered a pilot for “Mogadishu, Minnesota,” with a cast that includes Elvis Nolasco, K.C. Collins, Rif Hutton, Ezana Alem, Hanad Abdirahman Abdi, Selam Tadese, Prince Abdi, Yusra Warsama and Liya Kebede.

— Alem is Sameer, the Somali All-American boy: handsome, excellent student, planning to go away to college with his beautiful girlfriend, Lacy. He’s devoted to his parents, yet pressured by their hopes and dreams for him.

— Abdirahman Abdi is Ali, a bright, likable young man who is polite and respectful to his family and loyal to his best friend, Sameer.

— Tadese plays Bisbaas, a renowned gangster with a friendly laugh and a surprising violent streak. Beloved by his nephew Ali, he returns to the neighborhood after years of banishment by his sister and brother.

— Hutton is Afrah, Sameer’s father, a former professor in Somalia who works at a rental car company since immigrating to the United States. His experience has given him a detached wisdom and a wry sense of humor. He is preparing to take the American citizenship test.

— Prince Abdi is Big Man, a spliff-smoking petty thug who takes care of his blind grandmother. He has filled the void left by Bisbaas’s banishment and now is threatened by his return.

— Nolasco is Liban, Ali’s uncle and proud owner of Liban’s Classy Hookah. He’s an upright citizen who prizes the family’s reputation above all else. He is not pleased when his brother, Bisbaas, returns to town.

— Warsama is Hawo, Sameer’s mother, hard-working and a loving parent. She holds fast to traditional Somali family values, which often conflict with the agenda of an American teenager.

— Collins is Jamal, Street-wise, mysterious and handsome, with an effortless charisma, he fashions himself after revolutionaries and tries to live his life by the book.

— And Kebede is Maryam, Ali’s mother, strong-willed, vivacious and is the glue holding her family together. She is deeply troubled by her quarreling brothers.

Kathryn Bigelow (who tackled the so-called “war on terror” telling the story of “history’s greatest manhunt for the world’s most dangerous man” in the critically-acclaimed 2012 drama-thriller “Zero Dark Thirty”) and Carolyn Strauss are executive producing the project.

With K’naan behind it (a Muslim of Somali ancestry, with deep connections to his community, and who has seen childhood friends lost), I’d assume that audiences will get a more comprehensive, if personal look at this particular struggle.

Filming is set to begin in October in Minneapolis.

Last year, K’naan was a 2015 Sundance Institute Global Filmmaking Award winner, a program designed to identify and support emerging independent filmmakers from around the world. He’s also an alumnus of the Institute’s Screenwriters and Directors Labs.


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