The makers of a new Toronto reality TV show have apologized for a controversial online trailer in which one of the program’s characters expresses hatred for Jews, even as two former cast hopefuls allege they felt pressured to make racist and sexualized comments during the audition process.
“Our intention is to make provocative television,” said Maryam Rahimi, executive producer of Lake Shore, a reality series modelled on the successful format of MTV’s popular Jersey Shore. “On one hand, we received a lot of attention, but on the other hand it was not necessarily the kind of attention that we wanted. For the record, we are not a racist show. If we offended anyone in any way, we apologize.”
The show, which has yet to begin filming, became the centre of controversy this week when producers posted a trailer on YouTube in which one of the show’s main characters, 23-year-old Sibel Atlug, tells the audience, “I’m not racist because I hate everybody equally, especially Jewish people.”
Lake Shore will chronicle the lives of these eight twenty-something Torontontians as they live under the same roof, drink, party and sleep with each other. But instead of sharing a common ancestry like the Italian American stars of Jersey Shore, the cast of Lake Shore is multicultural, with each character labelled according to their ethnic backgrounds and who appear to play to cultural stereotypes.
Ms. Atlug joins a colourful cast of seemingly narcissistic loudmouths that includes Joey Violin (‘‘the Italian’’), Anni Mei (“the Vietnamese’’), Tommy Hollywood (“the Czech’’), Arber Dace (“the Albanian’’), Robyn Perza (“the Jew’’), Karolina Czaja (‘‘the Pole’’) and Salem Moussallam (“the Lebanese’’).
In an interview with the National Post on Friday, Ms. Atlug tried to distance herself from her comments on the trailer.
“I don’t hate Jewish people,” she said. “I actually say I hate everybody equally. I was just poking fun at it.”
She said she would be “clarifying” her position at a press conference Tuesday before declining to comment further.
Ms. Rahimi stressed that it was important for people to understand that the show is about “exposing stereotypes in order to break them down and build relationships rather than destroy them.”
‘‘It’s about having fun and entertainment. By no means is it racist. By no means are we trying to do that,” she said.
But two former Lake Shore cast hopefuls who were among the show’s top 25 candidates before being cut say they felt pressured during the audition process to make racist and sexual comments in order to secure a role on the show.
Roxanne “Persia” Ramedani, a 20-year-old York University student, said Lake Shore’s producers asked her to audition after seeing her in a YouTube video speaking out against the show’s initial premise, which focused on following the lives of young people of Middle-Eastern descent.
Ms. Ramedani said alarm bells started to ring when she received a questionaire from the producers asking if she had a dislike for other nationalities.
“I would never say that. I’m completely even against talking about something like that,” Ms. Ramedani said.
But the questions continued during subsequent interviews, she said.
“They kept asking me, ‘Well, if you were on the show with an Israeli and they said something to you, would you get into a fight with them? Would you say anything to them?’” she said. “I said no because I’m not going to fight over something I just said that I don’t believe in.”
Ms. Rahimi says at no time did producers encourage potential cast members to say anything racist or controversial. When asked why contestants were quizzed on their views about other nationalities, she said the question was meant to “test if there’s a potential for the contestant to be hard or difficult to manage.”
Another contestant, Vonny Sweetland, who claims he was cast as one of the eight finalists before being cut and replaced without notice, said he too was asked if he had a problem with Jewish people.
“I got an email from them … saying we’re strongly considering you and we just want you to answer a few questions and one of them is, are there any races that you don’t like?” said Mr. Sweetland, who also runs a celebrity news website under the name Vonny The Ken Doll. “The more and more it went on and the more meetings we had, people started to realize how intense this was going to be.”
Ms. Rahimi denies Mr. Sweetland was ever cast in the show.
“Vonny made it to the top 10. He wasn’t chosen for the top eight. That’s all there is to it,” she said.
Canadian Jewish Congress CEO Bernie Farber still isn’t convinced the show will serve any other purpose but to divide people.
“This is not just a group of young people getting together sipping cases of beer and yelling and screaming at each other stupid, sexist and racists comments,” he said. “This actually appears to be a thoughtful, provocative attempt by the producers to turn races and creeds and faiths against each other simply for ratings, simply to get a TV spot. That to me is absolutely disgusting.”
The trailer also prompted Matt Orenstein, a Torontonian studying at Syracuse University to launch an online petition calling for the show’s cancellation.
“My hope is that it would raise some local and global awareness amongst Torontonians in regard to the disreputable representation of people from Toronto in the show,” Mr. Orenstein said. “If the petition was somehow able to stop the show altogether, then I feel I would have exceeded my goal. Although I appreciate Ms. Rahimi’s vision as a content creator, I really can’t help but feel she is selling out people from Toronto and Canadians altogether.”
Lake Shore creators apologize for anti-Jewish trailerIn Canada on November 12, 2010 at 21:40