This month, the Iranian-American Chamber of Commerce spoke with Shabnam Rezaei, co-founder of Big Bad Boo Studios, a children’s production company, and Oznoz, a subscription video on demand (SVOD) platform which features over 200 cartoon shows in 10 different languages, including many quality shows in Persian for Iranian-American families. Inspired by her Iranian heritage and in an effort to foster inclusivity, Ms. Rezaei has created groundbreaking changes in children’s entertainment.
Born in Iran, Ms. Rezaei moved to Austria at a young age, where she attended an international school. Exposed to multiple languages and cultures early on in her life, Ms. Rezaei stated that her experiences and diverse background are directly reflected in the shows that she creates and the business products that she produces.
Ms. Rezaei initially worked on Wall Street. Following September 11th, she created the online magazine PersianMirror, highlighting various aspects of Persian culture, in an effort to change the emerging negative narrative that Iranians were “lumped into.” Through PersianMirror, she was approached by Dustin Ellis, an aspiring writer and director who worked with her to create their first cartoon project, Babak and Friends: A First Norooz, an animated film about a young Iranian-American re-connecting with his Persian culture.
In her role at Big Bad Boo Studios, her work has included series such as The Bravest Knight, 1001 Nights, 16 Hudson, Mixed Nuts, and Lili & Lola. Lili & Lola is a preschool series about an Iranian-American family with lots of fun adventures and holiday episodes such as Yalda and Norooz. The cast of the show includes comedian Maz Jobrani, who plays the voice of the father. Lili & Lola can be found on Oznoz, Youtube and Amazon Prime Video. The show also has 6 Persian-learning games for free in the Apple App store, which teach the Persian Alphabet, Numbers, Shapes, Vocabulary and many other fun preschool topics. In addition, Big Bad Boo and Oznoz have Youtube channels with full episodes and Big Bad Boo’s content can also be found on Amazon Prime Video. All of the shows are available in Persian on Oznoz, for those families who are raising their children with Persian and want quality content to help with their children’s language learning abilities.
Although Ms. Rezaei originally began with the goal of representing Iranian culture, her mission has “now expanded to representing every single person whose voice may not be heard.” Her productions are multicultural as they feature a diverse group of characters in storylines that children and families from underrepresented groups can relate. This is an integral part of Ms. Rezaei’s work as she believes that “there is nothing more important than a person feeling like they matter, seeing themselves in the media.”
Big Bad Boo Studios and Oznoz have gained the respect of everyday families who appreciate the validity and pride provided to their children through Ms. Rezaei’s work. Doing so, however, has by no means been easy. The challenge fuels Ms. Rezaei to continue to “innovate with difficult topics and push with telling stories that no one else wants to tell,” in an effort to show the common humanity we share with different cultures and families, while fostering inclusivity in children’s entertainment.
By Nikki Vafai