13 Passing References to Persians That You Would Only Notice If You're Persian

Leyla Shams
April 15, 2014

The movie Clueless was released in 1995, and in it was the first positive ‘passing reference’ to Iranians I noticed in a major Hollywood picture. I was 10 years old when I saw this movie, and I still remember watching the scene where Cher, the glamorous popular high school girl, points to a group of cool-looking teenagers and says, 'That's the Persian Mafia- you can't hang out with them unless you own a BMW.' There wasn't a large Persian population in the town I was living in Texas, so just imagining these too-cool-for-school "Persians" being noticed and commented on by the most popular girl in school was astounding to me.

As the population of Iranian immigrants has grown, especially in Los Angeles where most of these movies and TV shows are made, references to Iranians increasingly sneak into popular culture. Clueless was released almost 20 years ago (what?!) and Iranian-Americans have come a long way since then. In fact, 25% of homes in Beverly Hills are presently owned by Iranian-Americans, and the last mayor of the city was Iranian-born. These passing pop-culture references may not even register to most people watching, but to us Iranians, they make our ears perk up, eyes widen, and put a smile on our faces- especially when the references aren’t about terrorism or convenience stores.  

Below is a compilation of clips of many of these references. Many of them are quite silly, and there are a disproportionate number that claim that our most distinguishing characteristics are our love of BMW's and the use of too much hair gel. Oh well- I’ll take that over terrorism and convenience stores anyday!

Check out the clips below, and let us know if there are any passing references (no matter how minor and obscure) that we completely missed. 


1. Clueless- Persian Mafia

@ 0:09

Cher: "And that's the Perisan Mafia- you can't hang out with them unless you own a BMW."

2. True Romance- Turn off's? Persians


Christian: How about you... tell me about yourself... What are your turn offs?

Patricia: Ha, turn offs... Persians.

3. Change-Up- Too Much Gel


Jason: "This is called gel... too little, you look like a pedophile. Too much, you look Persian."

4. Family Guy- White BMW!


Asian reporter: What do you plan to do when you win the lottery... every Persian guy in the world?

Persian gus: White BMW!

5. South Park- Infiltrate the Persians (using Mexicans)

Watch clip here.

Lady: Janet, how is this going to work, they don't look Persian?

Janet: Sure they do. Just have to gel the hair... put on a silk shirt... some gold chains... and tons of cologne- PERSIAN.'

Mexican: Si

6. Family Guy Again- Stewie listening to Persian Radio


Stewie: I shouldn't have stayed up all night listening to Persian radio.

Persian radio: Hey, that was Roxet with You've got the Look. It's 21 O'clock and still 27 centigrade out there. Ookh, that's hot. So if you're cruising along theleft side of the road, in a 120 kilometer per hour in the Skhevy desert, turn up the decibals, cause it's Skhakheh Mami with the Alekh, on 103.2 the Akh.


7. The Sopranos- Phil is the Shah of Iran

Phil: You know what that c***-s****** says I look like? The Shah of Iran
Guy 1: Who does?
Guy 2: Tony.
Phil: I never got that at all.
Guy 1: That piece of s***.
Guy 2: It's irrelevent Phil. But he's testing you all the time. And you keep indulding him.

8. Family Guy Again Again- Persian Fountains

Guy: I just hope whoever moes in doesn't mind the Persian birds next door.

Persian bird: Tweet, tweet, check out my expensive fountain.

9. South Park- Ginger Cow News in Iran

(Newscast in Persian)

10. How I Met Your Mother- Persian Limo Driver

(Insults in Persian)

11. Family Guy Again Again Again- 3 Persian Guys High Fiving

Woman: One morning I woke up naked with three Persians high-fiving each other on the way out of my bedroom, but now that I've found the program, I'm a whole different person!

12. Rush Hour 3

(This is a terrorism one, but we let is slide because it's kind of making fun of the whole thing...)

-You and I both know them Iranians were terrorists!

-They were scientists from UCLA!

-Big deal! Cause they kill cancer in rats? That don't mean they won't blow shit up!

13. Mrs. Doubtfire- Leyla, Get Back in Your Cell


Ok so this last one isn't exactly a reference to Persians, but it's a direct reference to my name, which I found mind blowing at the time! Leyla is a very popular name in the Persian language, and even though Eric Clapton's song had long been popular when Mrs. Doubtfire came out, I didn't often meet any non-Iranians with my name.

So there you go, 11 Passing References to Persian that You'll Only Notice If You're Persian. Can you think of any that we're missing? Leave them for us in the comment section below- perhaps we can do another illustrated series for all to see.

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I actually remember seeing some of those scenes and I just couldn't help but giggle at the time :D
Its great that you've collected them all in one place, thanks Leyla

Actually no.. Ranjit married a bangladeshi woman but he's actually Persian... otherwise him speaking Farsi would be kinda weird lol

Not exactly a passing reference, more a main character, but I loved the scene in the film Crash after the shop keeper thinks he has shot the wee girl then discovers that she is "miraculously" okay and calls her his Fereshta

In Father made in Usa with Memari (american-iranian couple)

In the last season of 30 rock, Jack is creating bad tv shows on purpose. The un-winnable game show Homonym ( A contestant is given a homonym and they have to pick which definition the host is referring to but it's always "the other one") is a huge success and gets exported to Iran:

in family guy when Brian and Sinatra buy the quahog cabana, in the end song he says "the chick that's kinda Persian.

Beverly Hills Cop III has a subtle reference to the Persian population out in Cali when Axel pulls up to the police station and the automatic gate response saya:

Welcome to Beverly Hills Police. To continue this message in English, press one. For Spanish, press two. For Farsi, press three. If you have homeless people on your lawn, press 15. If you need the riot rumour hotline, press 17.

Leila is actually a very common finnish female name also. Especially with the old folks. My grandma is named Leila for example.

Family guy season 13 episode 4:

“Come live in a place a Persian guy would say is a little too much!”

Yep, and the vast majority of these stereotypes are extremely racist. Typical racist americans.

Also in The Golden Girls, "Iranian guys mail their cousins back home and tell them not to come?" - Sophia Petrillo (or something to that effect.)

well the fact is, I'm a fan of family guy myself ! and i admire all those criticisms! and well it's true most of us are into luxurious staff, and let me tell you that i have seen a lot of iranian people who are somehow jingoist in a way ! but the image that these comedy series or cartoons are referring , refers to 1980's mostly !

IT Crowd Season 3 episode 4
Douglas: Oh, poppet... to think when we met, you were so worried that you came from Iran.
April: ...what?
Douglas: When we met, as if I'd be worried about something like that! I don't care where you're from; Iran, France, doesn't bother me. I'm very modern
April: I'm not from Iran!
Douglas: Well, you said something along those lines.
April: No, not Iran, a man! I said I used to be a man!

No idea why but this made my day.

Good job Leyla,
You can mention this episode of the Family guy: S11 E19
at 16' when the correspondent said: "but the real story is, I will be married too, if I were willing to date a persian."