‘Jinn’ is the latest in Netflix’s long line of experiments — but it’s the first to cater so directly to the Middle East.
The five-episode Arabic-language teenage supernatural drama will be available from June 13 in more than a dozen languages, capable of reaching millions of eyeballs in other regions — much like Netflix’s previous foreign language success stories, ‘Dark’ and ‘Money Heist’ (‘La Casa De Papel’.)
The streaming service will test whether there’s an untapped market for a show like this, which could set the tone for Netflix’s other upcoming Arabic-language originals — ‘Paranormal’ and ‘Al Rawabi School For Girls’.
As we await the show’s imminent release, we round up eight things you need to know about the cast, the story and the real-life origins of jinn.
1. Jinn is the first of three Netflix originals coming soon
'Jinn' is Netflix’s first original Arabic series — but the streaming giant has announced two other Middle Eastern originals since. 'Al Rawabi School for Girls' will be another teen-centric series launching sometime in 2019; the show will revolve around a bullied girl who seeks revenge, only to discover that no one is all good or all bad — herself included.
Meanwhile, the streaming service’s third Middle Eastern original 'Paranormal' will be geared more towards adults. The 1960s mystery drama will be based on the best-selling books by late author Ahmad Khalid Tawfik, and will centre around Dr Refaat Esmail’s experiences with supernatural forces. 'Paranormal' is Netflix’s first foray into Egyptian drama.
2. The show is about a group of teenagers trying to identify the jinn among them
Set in modern Amman and ancient Petra, 'Jinn' follows a group of Arab teenagers experiencing friendship and budding romances. Following a school trip to the ruins of Petra, someone at Seven Hills Academy unwittingly invites vengeful jinn — supernatural creatures — into their lives, and the students must attempt to save the day. But how will they pinpoint the angry jinn when everyone in high school seems to be angry about something?
3. The young adult series introduces new Middle Eastern talent
Netflix originals such as 'Stranger Things' and 'On My Block' amazed us with the strength of their unknown actors. Much like these coming-of-age predecessors, Jinn introduces us to an ensemble of young new faces. Salma Malhas stars as Mira, the rebellious teen mourning the loss of her mother and learning to love again thanks to Keras (Hamzeh Okab). Sultan Al Khail plays Yassin, who is struggling against the odds and building a supernatural friendship with Vera (Aysha Shahaltough).
The series is in capable hands behind-the-scenes, helmed by Lebanese director Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya ('Very Big Shot') and Jordanian screenwriter Bassel Ghandour ('Theeb'). According to Bou Chaaya, it provides “a great opportunity to portray Arab youth in a very unique way. The level of authenticity Netflix is trying to achieve with this show is definitely what attracted me the most to be part of this project.”
4. The show could change the landscape of Arabic television forever
Arabic television series follow a fairly unchanging formula; in Ramadan, you might notice an onslaught of 30-episode serials starring your favourite actors. Egypt, the Levant and the Gulf often produce shows for TV networks that feature recurring faces every year — whether it’s Lebanese beauty queen Nadine Nassib Njeim, Syria’s Bassel Khayat or Kuwaiti TV veteran Souad Abdullah.
But, Arabic TV shows have never set their sights on teenagers — nor have they strayed far from traditional network programming. Also, while Middle Eastern dramas tend to focus on social ills, doomed romances, financial troubles, politics and betrayal, they rarely explore genres such as fantasy, sci-fi or the supernatural.
With Jinn, several things feel new — the subject matter, the target demographic, the young ensemble, the school setting, the five-episode format and the fact that it’s an original production created for a video-on-demand streaming platform.
5. 'Jinn' will launch Arab programming to a global audience — in more than 20 languages
When 'Jinn' releases internationally today — with five episodes that span 30 to 45 minutes each — it will be available in 26 languages, in more than 190 countries and to 148 million subscribers around the world.
6. Jinn is not a new concept, definitely not in the UAE
'Jinn' is an original screenplay, yes — but the general concept of jinn is fairly common in pop culture and folklore. A 2013 UAE-made horror flick titled 'Djinn' follows an Emirati couple who relocate from America to their hometown in Ras Al Khaimah, only to discover that their new home is haunted. The film made more than Dh1 million on its opening weekend, breaking a UAE box office record at the time. It was also the last film to be directed by Tobe Hooper ('Texas Chainsaw Massacre') before his death in 2017.
7. The show was filmed in Jordan, where another film featuring a jinni recently shot
Because of its vast desert landscapes and production incentives, Jordan has become a popular shooting destination for Hollywood. But this isn’t a new tradition — movies that have filmed in Jordan include the 1962 epic 'Lawrence of Arabia'. More recently, the 2019 live-action remake of 'Aladdin' also filmed in Jordan. The movie, starring Will Smith, has an interesting tie-in to Jinn… which we’ll cover in the next point.
8. The origins of jinn pre-date mankind — and they’re widely referred to in English as ‘genies’
Jinn are creatures found in mythology, folklore and in Islamic theology. According to Islam, jinn are invisible creatures made out of smokeless fire and created before man. They can be good or evil, and can take many different forms (including human form). In English, the word ‘jinni’ (singular form of ‘jinn’) is translated into genie. The creature appears in popular folk literature, including the jinni — or genie — who helped street urchin Aladdin in One Thousand and One Nights.
Jinn are generally defined as spirits, supernatural creatures, or any being which cannot be sensed or detected by humans.
Don’t miss it!
‘Jinn’ streams on Netflix from June 13.