Photos by Merik Tadros Layla Rumi in "Nice Iranian Girl"

I was going against a culture that was embedded in my DNA.
I won’t be overlooked.

― Layla Rumi

Photos by Merik Tadros
Layla Rumi in “Nice Iranian Girl”

Her dream was to become a VJ on MTV when MTV was still a hot and edgy channel. Layla Rumi made it happen, but it was a long and arduous road. Before she became a regular staple on the iconic channel and its many dance shows, she was an Iranian teen trying to survive London and her mother. Her story is empowering, amusing, heart grabbing and spiritually uplifting. Rumi grew up in Tehran during the Iran/Iraq war. She lived in a basement with her grandparents whom she idolized. At age twelve, she’s left alone when her parents leave for a vacation in New York. By fifteen, she’s homeless. Her bestie Emma and Emma’s mother Julia takes her in. It is during her stay with Emma she discovers the world of MTV and its latest sensation being an MTV VJ. She would study the dance moves and work it at China White, the popular nightclub in London.
For her long awaited interview at MTV, she wore a classic blazer with huge shoulder pads and red lipstick to look older than her fifteen years. Amazingly, she got the gig. Her routine was school, then homework, then dinner and work until 4 a.m. Rumi was determined to make her dream happen. Her fortitude and stamina deserves recognition and much praise. To go from a country where bombs dropping from the sky was normal, and arrive in a country where the opportunity to be and do what you want, quickly became the new normal. This is a remarkable and admired feat.
Rumi speaks highly of her beloved grandparents. She adored them and they whole-heartedly loved their granddaughter. She recalls them with heartfelt esteem and respect. Even though she lived “in a piss-poor hood, with piss in the elevator and used syringes,” in London living with her mother, she turned out just fine, finding her niche in television. She readily admits that all she she learned about life she got from watching the television show Saved by the Bell. Go Slater!! She tells her story with passion and verve. She makes a wonderful role model for girls but also for many women who have fought adversity in order to make their dreams a reality. Rumi is strong-willed, intelligent, talented and obviously beautiful. Who wouldn’t want to follow in those footsteps?

Nice Iranian Girl ends this Saturday the 11th at 8 p.m. at the Whitefire Theatre, located at 13500 Ventura Blvd., in Sherman Oaks. For ticket information, call (800) 838-3006 or reserve online at