Award-Winning Homeland Has Israeli Origins

Last week the Showtime series Homeland took home Emmy Awards for best actor (Damian Lewis as Nicholas Brody) and actress (Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison) in a drama series, as well as for writing and for best dramatic series. The latter two awards were presented to 39-year-old Israeli Gideon Raff, who created Hatufim (which means Prisoners of War), the Israeli series upon which Homeland is based.

A recent New Yorker article provides the background:

It was only after Raff left Los Angeles, where he had been living for nine years, and moved back to Israel, in 2009, that Hollywood came knocking. He conceived of the idea for “Homeland” during his visits to Israel. “When you live far away, home looks a little different every time,” he told me. “So I thought about someone who returns home and wants everything to be the same, but it’s not—and how everyone at home wants him to be the same, but he’s not.” Raff was also interested in exploring Israel’s unique regard for its captured soldiers, and the prominent place that these soldiers occupy in the public’s consciousness.

That soldier in the Showtime series became Brody—a U.S. Marine who had been missing in action for eight years before being rescued in Afghanistan. While the U.S. version focussed mostly on the fraught relationship between Brody and Carrie, a C.I.A. operative who believes that Brody had switched sides in captivity, the Israeli version centered around the families of the kidnapped soldiers, and broached issues of post-traumatic stress disorder, uneasy adjustment, and lingering suspicions—issues that had been seen as taboo in a country that places the return of its captured soldiers at the top of its political agenda.

In the first episode of “Hatufim”—which became the highest-rated drama in Israel—one of the two returning P.O.W.s asks his wife if he can drive their car from the airport; he hadn’t been behind the wheel in seventeen years. It’s a small anecdote—one that seems a little pat and perfectly suited for prime-time television—but it’s based on the true story of Hezi Shai, a former captive soldier who had been held for three years in Lebanon, and later founded Erim Balayla (Awake at Night), a non-profit aimed at helping Israel’s returning P.O.W.s. While researching his show, Raff interviewed Shai, and spoke with many other former soldiers who had gone through similar experiences. “As a country, we’re obsessed with bringing the captives home, but as soon as they’re back we don’t want to know what happens to them,” Raff told me.

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