Search Results for: Rami Malek

Rami Malek stuns as Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody” first look image

What can I say that this picture can’t say for itself? Rami Malek is going to kill it as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody.

Bohemian Rhapsody†Rami Malek

As you can see from the watermark, the image was first released on what would have been Mercury’s 71st birthday through Entertainment Weekly, and while we still haven’t heard Malek’s vocals (if you’ve been listening to him speak about the film on the late night talk show circuit, you’ll know that he has had to record himself singing for the members of Queen themselves), I’m almost past caring about that now that we’ve seen this picture of him in full the Freddie Mercury regalia.

Malek mentioned his vocals in a quick interview he did with Entertainment Weekly, saying that the film will use parts of his own voice as well as Mercury’s voice coupled with a sound-alike to fill in any missing spots.

“We’re going to use Freddie as much as possible and use myself as much as possible,” said Malek. “I’m in Abbey Road [Studios] right now if that should say anything to you. I’m not working on my acting.”

As for sound-alikes, this sounds like a job UK singer Mika, who was tailor-made for this, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were actually using him in this film. He even references Mercury in his 2009 breakout song Grace Kelly. If director Bryan Singer isn’t using him–WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE, SINGER?! Put ME on your team to help you make these decisions!

As far as the look goes, Malek said the first time he finally saw himself-as-Mercury staring back at him in the mirror, it brought everything into focus.

“When you’re able to open your eyes and see a different person staring back at you in the mirror, it’s a very affirming moment,” he said, adding that the experience of being in hair and makeup to become Mercury”only adds to the level of confidence that one would need to play Freddie Mercury.”

As reported in 2016, Malek is perfect casting as Mercury, not only because of his resemblance to the late singer or his massive acting talent (which I’m glad has finally been recognized through Mr. Robot), but because casting Malek as Mercury is actually quite respectful casting coming from Hollywood, since Mercury was Parsi, an Indian community that has its roots in Iran, and Malek is of Middle Eastern background (Malek isn’t Iranian or of the Parsi community, though; he’s from a Coptic Egyptian background). While it’s not a Parsi actor playing Mercury, it’s better than the whitewashed alternatives that were out there and for Hollywood, this is a baby step towards better casting practices as a whole. At least that’s how I see it, if I’m looking at it from an optimistic perspective. As I stated back then:

Freddie Mercury’s family is from Gujarat (they later relocated to Zanzibar). Mercury’s family were Parsi, which is, as Wikipedia states, “one of two Zoroastrian communities…primarily located in South Asia.” Parsis migrated to Gujarat from Greater Iran, so there’s a crossover of Persian and Indian influence. While there are some Hollywood “all brown people are the same” tactics happening with Malek’s casting, at least this is closer to a semblance of respectful accuracy than Hollywood has been about big roles like these in the past. Remember, Sacha Baron Cohen and Ben Whishaw were the first and second choices for this movie.

Check out the Entertainment Weekly video below for more info. Bohemian Rhapsody comes to theaters Christmas day, 2018 (such a long time away!!!)

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Dear Hollywood: Make this Met Gala pic of Donald Glover, Riz Ahmed and Rami Malek into a blockbuster

(Twitter)

The Met Gala has come and gone, and we’ve learned three things:

1. Rihanna is the Queen of the Met Gala

2. Kylie Jenner doesn’t get out of bed unless she can copy a black woman

3. Rami Malek, Riz Ahmed, and Donald Glover should star in a movie together. Any movie, whatever genre. Just make it, Hollywood.

Just look at these guys. I don’t even know if they’re friends in real life, but they’d look like they’d make great buddies. It’d be even better if they could showcase that friendship on celluloid (or, as it is nowadays, digital recording).

Picture it–a Girls Trip-esque film, but instead of having Queen Latifah and the gang go on an Essence weekend in New Orleans, it’s a Guys Trip, with Ahmed, Malek, and Glover going on a dude weekend in…anywhere other than Las Vegas, because that seems to be the cliche place for guys in a film to go. Let’s say they go to Miami, which is, technically also a cliche, but I used to live there and I like Miami, so there you go.

However, instead of the film being written like a typical “dudes on vacation” film, which usually involves a lot of ridiculous dude-bro behavior, the film would be written like…well, Girls Trip. From what I’ve seen of the trailer, it’s a film that is just as bawdy and sexual as any guys film, but instead, there’s the throughline of friendship and sisterhood. With the theoretical Guys Trip, the R-rated humor would be there, but there’s also tons of characterization and brotherhood there as well. It’d be awesome!

Also, we’d get to see Ahmed and Malek in comedic roles, something we haven’t seen from them in a long time, in the case of Malek (who has been in the Night at the Museum films), or ever, in the case of Ahmed (who hails from The Night Of and Rogue One).

If  roadtrip comedy isn’t in the cards for these guys, then I’d certainly take a future in which Ramek joins Ahmed and Glover in the Star Wars universe.

What do you think of Guys Trip, and would you watch it? Or, what kind of film would you want to see starring this trio of handsome guys? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

Rami Malek to do the Fandango as Queen’s Freddie Mercury

MR. ROBOT -- "eps2.9_pyth0n-pt2.p7z" Episode 212 -- Pictured: Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson -- (Michael Parmelee/USA Network). Freddie Mercury in New Haven, CT at a WPLR Show in 1977. (Carl Lender/Creative Commons)
MR. ROBOT — “eps2.9_pyth0n-pt2.p7z” Episode 212 — Pictured: Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson — (Michael Parmelee/USA Network). Freddie Mercury in New Haven, CT at a WPLR Show in 1977. (Carl Lender/Creative Commons)

This news is something I’ve had on my proverbial news desk for a while, but it got sidelined by all of this election malarkey. But I’m talking about it now–RAMI MALEK IS PLAYING FREDDIE MERCURY!

According to Deadline:

Bryan Singer is in talks to direct Bohemian Rhapsody, the long-in-the-works movie about the seminal British rock band Queen, with Mr. Robot’s Rami Malek playing frontman Freddie Mercury. The film is coming back together and is on the fast track at 20th Century Fox and New Regency with original producer Graham King and his GK Films.

Malek is the third actor listed to play Mercury for this particular project. First was Sacha Baron Cohen and later Ben Whishaw.

I’m excited for Malek to play Mercury. But first, let’s take two deep dives into Malek taking on the Mercury mantle:

1. Wasn’t Freddie Mercury Indian? Yes, Freddie Mercury’s family is from Gujarat (they later relocated to Zanzibar). Mercury’s family were Parsi, which is, as Wikipedia states, “one of two Zoroastrian communities…primarily located in South Asia.” Parsis migrated to Gujarat from Greater Iran, so there’s a crossover of Persian and Indian influence. While there are some Hollywood “all brown people are the same” tactics happening with Malek’s casting, at least this is closer to a semblance of respectful accuracy than Hollywood has been about big roles like these in the past. Remember, Sacha Baron Cohen and Ben Whishaw were the first and second choices for this movie. At least Malek is brown.

(To say it again, the key word here is CLOSERRegardless of Malek’s and Mercury’s backgrounds, they actually cast a brown person to play a brown person. In Hollywood, when the lowest threshold has been cleared, that’s a win.)

2. Will Malek be able to truly inhabit Freddie Mercury? We originally didn’t know how Heath Ledger would be as the Joker, and he’s possibly the best Joker since Jack Nicholson, so folks shouldn’t sweat Malek’s performance in this film. I’m personally not worried at all about Malek’s ability to take on this role; he’s killed it every week on Mr. Robot. He’s killed in his movies, including A Night at the Museum. So let’s cut the guy, the first non-white Golden Globe winner for Best Actor in a Drama, some slack. He’s a fine actor.

As far as his singing ability, or should I say “singing” ability, the film’s creative team can always get someone to sing for him. That’s what happens in films all the time. If you’ve seen a Bollywood movie, nine times out of 10, the actors aren’t actually singing.

I think he’ll be able to act like he’s singing just fine, especially if he pulls a Deborah Kerr; for her role in 1956’s The King and I, she practiced singing despite the fact that she can’t actually sing. Since she knew she’d have Hollywood background singer Marni Nixon doing her vocals, she still wanted to appear as if she was singing; she didn’t want there to be a clear visual of her just opening and closing her mouth like a puppet. Basically, this bit of movie history is just to say that we know Rami Malek can’t sing already (or so we think); we just have to suspend our disbelief, and I think he’s talented enough to make us do that.

I’m ready to see what Malek’s going to do. What do you think? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

Rami Malek Proves Why He’s The GOAT in ELLE’s September Photoshoot

Cora Emmanuel and Rami Malek pose for ELLE Magazine. (Azim Haidaryan/Elle Magazine/screengrab from Elle.com)
Cora Emmanuel and Rami Malek pose for ELLE Magazine. (Azim Haidaryan/Elle Magazine/screengrab from Elle.com)

Rami Malek is a personal favorite around these parts, and his latest interview/photoshoot for the September issue of ELLE Magazine, he proves once again why he’s a low-key thought leader as well as a stellar actor.

In the interview, Malek talks about how he relates to his Mr. Robot character Elliot. His relationship to the character is much less about the self-important vanity of acting a meaty role (that kind of sentiment is  something I’ve personally heard from an actress when discussing her role on a formerly popular show a few years ago) and more about how Elliot reflects a darker side to Malek’s past thinking and personal flaws.

“Look at me. I’m an actor who’s been struggling for a while, and there have been moments where I don’t think I’ve been the greatest in my personal life because I’ve sometimes taken my professional goals too seriously. So when I do things that aren’t as altruistic as I want them to be, I have to take inventory of myself, the way Elliot does when he starts to see the ramifications of his actions. He’s an unexpected hero in that way.”

It’s rare when we hear actors or actresses discuss their shortcomings in a way that’s genuine. Usually, too many of the acting set discuss their flaws in a self-congratulatory, humblebrag way, as if being proud of how “special” their flaws are makes them “just like us” while still using those same flaws to showcase how much “better” they are than the rest of us. When you read Malek’s words, you can tell he’s not talking about himself in a way to say “I’m better than you because I’m more perfectly imperfect than you.” He’s discussing past regrets like a person who has matured over time, and that makes him even more relatable than he already was. A lot of us can identify with feeling like there’s not enough time to make your dreams happen, of wanting to rush things to get to where you think you should be, of taking yourself too seriously. I know I can certainly identify. It takes a surprising lot of maturity to admit when you haven’t been as grateful or as well-meaning as you aspire to be, and Malek reflects that maturity in his answer.

It also helps that it seems like he’s not an actor who trips off of being famous. He still seems like a normal (yet immensely talented) guy. A guy who can take smoking-hot pictures. Just eat your heart out as you look at the top screenshot; there’s more where that came from in the actual ELLE article. (Of course, it goes without saying that model Cora Emmanuel takes a good photo too.)

Malek’s star is on the rise; Season 3 of Mr. Robot has already been ordered, and Malek is getting ready to promote Buster’s Mal Heart, an indie film he’s starring in. Once again, he’s taking on a cerebral mind-bender of a character who is lost out at sea and in the wilderness, but recalls a former life as a family man. The film, which is expected to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is already expected to be a must-watch in the indie circuit, and it’s going to be exciting to see just how well this film does. You can take a look at the trailer right here.

What do you think about Malek and his regular-guy approach to Hollywood fame? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

Why Rami Malek’s 1st Leading Film Role Evokes Omar Sharif

This past August, I wrote a rebuttal to The Hollywood Reporter‘s article written around the time of Omar Sharif’s death, titled, “Will Hollywood Ever Produce Another Arab Star Like Omar Sharif?”, and in my article, I wrote that there are plenty of Middle Eastern actors who could be Hollywood’s next Sharif-esque heartthrob, if Hollywood gave them a chance. I wrote about several actors out there dominating the TV space, including Mr. Robot star Rami Malek. To quote myself:

Rami Malek, who is Egyptian (and might be one of the only, if not the only, major Hollywood actor of Egyptian heritage to actually play a pharaoh—the Night at the Museum analog for Tutankhamun, Ahkmenrah ), plays Elliot in Mr. Robot. Elliot’s haunted by his past and wants to make a difference in the world, even if that difference includes criminal activity, and nowhere does the show make mention of his ethnicity, or the ethnic backgrounds of anyone on the show. On Mr. Robot, ethnic backgrounds thankfully come second to the drama of the show, so no one is really pigeon-holed into acting a certain way. But it’s worth mentioning that Malek is Middle Eastern, and one of the few brown actors in Hollywood who isn’t playing a terrorist.

At the end of the article, I wrote this:

The common denominator with everyone mentioned in this article is that Hollywood’s system is working against them. To quote Sharif himself, he said it was “not logical” for an Arab actor to become a star in Hollywood. “I was the only one that made it; there will not be another.” However, Hollywood could decide to prove Sharif wrong and give more than just one brown actor a chance to achieve Sharif’s level of success, a success that shouldn’t have anything to do with your skin tone or where you come from, but on the merit of your acting talent. If Hollywood was fair and let more brown actors make it, I think Sharif would be glad to see from his perch in the afterlife that he’d be proven wrong.

It seems like Hollywood is about to prove Sharif wrong and everyone who doubted Hollywood (including me), thinking it’ll fall into its old habits. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Malek has been cast in his first leading role in a film, that film being indie mystery-creepfest Buster’s Mal Heart. Malek will play “an eccentric mountain man” who is running from police and hides out in vacation homes. He keeps having weird dreams and comes to realize that he’s one man inhabiting two bodies (and, two different realities, since the other man is lost at sea). In anime terms, think how the Nameless Namek split into Kami and King Piccolo and fused back into one being much, much later. The question that needs solving in Buster’s Mal Heart, aside from how the man split from himself, is how he can fuse back together (if he even wants to do that).

The story is a mind-bender, for sure, and it’s certainly in Malek’s wheelhouse, because Mr. Robot is, oftentimes, a mind-bending experience. Malek has tons of the alt-mysterious cred (to himself and from his role on Mr. Robot) to make this movie sound not only cool, but plausible as a possible blockbuster. But what makes this news really cool is that Malek has now become one of the few actors of Middle Eastern descent out there that are starring in films that don’t have anything to do with terrorism or stereotypes.

I’m so glad that Hollywood’s given Malek a chance. It also goes to show that maybe, just maybe, the market is opening up to accepting actors of Middle Eastern descent, since Malek’s entryway into the leading role standard wasn’t his first big film role as Akhmenrah, but through his Mr. Robot TV role. (Albeit, it was also a TV show that played at SXSW and won an award.) Basically, TV could be another avenue many other Middle Eastern actors could find the success they were denied by Hollywood initially and make Hollywood give them their deserved due.

When I spoke to Tyrant star Cameron Gharaee for the Entertainment Weekly Community, we started talking about how important television could be to the Middle Eastern actor looking to make it. To quote him:

A lot of Americans don’t know about the Middle East, yet they have strong political views on things—but these are people too, and they have struggles. It makes it an even playing field for everyone, and it’s going to open a lot of doors, hopefully. Especially with the show doing well and people enjoying it, it can open the door for more shows. I think that’s what this is; it’s a bridge to testing the waters and saying, “Look, these shows are entertaining, these people do have an interesting culture.” It’s rich and colorful, and they have really amazing personas. The personalities of the culture are very fascinating … it’s a beautiful culture. I think this is a bridge to open that door for more stories to be told—and that’s all you can really hope for.

Can Hollywood keep up the precedent they’ve now set with Malek? Lets hope so, because there are many other stars out there that need that door kicked down.

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MR. ROBOT — “m1rr0r1ng.qt” Episode 109 — Pictured: Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson — (Photo by: Christopher Saunders/USA Network)

The Academy’s 2017 Class is a Much-Needed Step in the Right Direction

The Academy has taken a huge step forward with rectifying their “white old man” look by adding a new freshman class of 774 actors and directors, including Gal Gadot, Leslie Jones, Jordan Peele, Nazanin Boniadi, Grace Lee (whom I’ve interviewed before), Zoë Kravitz, Aamir Khan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Betty White (why hadn’t she been added yet???), B.D. Wong, Donnie Yen, Leslie Jones, Riz Ahmed and Dwayne Johnson.

(For the full list of new members from all branches, visit Oscars.org.)

According to the Oscars’ stats, the new members hail from 57 countries and are 39 percent female, with seven of the branches inviting more women than men. Thirty percent of the new members are also people of color.

This is a vast improvement for the Academy, especially taking in where the organization was about a year and a half ago, with threatened boycotts and outrage over the lack of minority-led Oscar nominated films. Fans had utilized April Reign’s hashtag #OscarsSoWhite to voice their anger, and the Academy has taken meaningful steps to respond, first by adding more members from various backgrounds last year, and now this new batch of members this year.

Of course, even though these numbers are huge steps in the right direction, there are some gaps that need to be filled. Such as there aren’t many listed who are also disabled. I say “many” because there could be people with invisible disabilities, such as mental illness, that are listed. As of my review, I only see one actor with a physical disability, Warwick Davis. The focus for the Academy right now is purely on gender and race demographics, but it’d be great to see the organization focus on disability demographics as well, since it might spur the organization to recognize films that feature actual disabled actors.

Also, there aren’t any Native actors listed and there’s very little Latinx and LGBT representation as well. Bigger gains could be made on these fronts. But on the whole, this fleshed-out Academy voting board will benefit both the Academy itself and movie goers, despite the opinion of one Scott Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter.

Usually, I refrain from jumping on fellow movie critics and analysts, since oftentimes, we are getting paid for our opinion, and an opinion is something that you can either agree with and support or disagree with and turn the other way. However, for Feinberg’s analysis about the new batch of voters, I have to make an exception for.

Feinberg’s initial point—that jamming the voting board with more actors might seem more like a vapid political move to avoid bad PR—is rather innocuous by itself. You can either take it or leave (and even as an innocuous point, I would leave it because of the positive impact any move, including ones that could be seen as vapid and political, could have on the poor state of representation in Hollywood today). But what gets more intolerable is how aggressive Feinberg becomes in discrediting the actors who got the invite.

I hate to single anyone out, but I don’t even think the people who I am going to reference would argue that they have had the sort of film career that already merits an invitation to the film Academy. Let’s start with this year’s invitees to the acting branch, whose names are the most familiar to the general public. Wanda Sykes? Zoe Kravitz? Terry Crews? Really? Some have made only one big-screen contribution of any note, such as Wonder Woman‘s Gal Gadot. And many are predominately known for their work on the small screen: The Night Of‘s Riz Ahmed, Atlanta‘s Donald Glover, Underground‘s Aldis Hodge, Saturday Night Live‘s Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon, The Cosby Show‘s Phylicia Rashad, The Golden Girls‘ Betty White and Mr. Robot‘s B.D. Wong (I have similar reservations about several white male invitees, as well, such as Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm and ex-bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno.)

…None of this is intended to insult the talent and/or doubt the future potential of any of these individuals, but rather to examine and question what the Academy is trying to do here. I believe that the Academy’s intentions are admirable, but that its tactics are foolhardy. The bottom line is that the Academy cannot fix the industry’s diversity problems any more than a tail can wag a dog. This is not a problem that can be reverse-engineered.

Feinberg might write that he’s not trying to insult these newly-minted Academy members by rejecting their entire body of work as a reason to be invited into the Academy, but that’s exactly what he’s doing. First of all, he’s acting like none of the people he’s listed have ever been in movies–they all have film credits to their name along with television credits. I mean, how many Jurassic Park films does B.D. Wong have to be in to be recognized as an actor in a film franchise, not to mention the voice of Mulan’s (bisexual) partner, Shang? Before Mr. Robot, Rami Malek was a film actor, having been part of the Night at the Museum and Twilight franchises. Heck, he just finished a movie, Buster’s Mal Heart. Doesn’t Rogue One count as a good reason for Riz Ahmed to be a part of the Academy? Also, are you really going to go as far as s**t on someone as respected and beloved as Betty White?

The bottom line is you can’t be invited to the Academy unless you’ve been in the movies or work in the film industry in some way (along with some other qualifiers such as sponsorship, etc.). For Feinberg to say that because these actors in particular have made their mark in TV as well is needlessly splitting hairs. Secondly, why not add them to the Academy?? What’s the big deal? With as long as these folks have been in the game, and with as many hours as they’ve dedicated to their craft, they deserve to give their say on what they feel are the best films of the year. It’s not like they don’t know what makes a good story, and that’s all a film is–a story. It would seem the only problem is that the Academy has proven that they aren’t just inviting people for good PR; they’re inviting people to double down on the promise it made to its members and audiences alike–to create an organization that actually reflects the movie-going public.

Feinberg is poking a bear by singling out majority POC actors whilst adding parenthetically that he has some gripes with two white male members, as if that makes his poking okay (and tell me why Hamm and Ferrigno can’t sound off on films?). This is not the hill to die on, especially if your argument is created from something as baseless as “they’ve been on TV, therefore the films they’ve been in don’t count towards Academy membership.”

Feinberg does write in an earlier post about the new members that “there is a refreshing presence of other highly accomplished minorities throughout the list” and that many among the new members, particularly the new members of the directing branch, should have been invited long ago. However, he takes such a disturbing tone in his later analysis, with the excuse for it being the argument that adding more people of color to the Academy won’t stop racism from happening in Hollywood at large. But you can’t be both for and against more representation in Hollywood, unless you’re a champion at doublethink. Besides, arguing that the Academy can’t solve racism is like not seeing the forest for the trees.

The gag is that everyone knows the Academy can’t solve industry racism by itself. The Academy, and its viewpoints up until the past year or so, is a product of a society that is still grappling with the realities of race, the sexual spectrum, mental illness, and how to deal with all of it in a respectful manner. There’s a lot more that has to happen inside of Hollywood to truly change the industry culture, sure. There’s also a lot that has to happen outside of Hollywood before it begins to trickle into Hollywood en masse. Like the Academy, Hollywood’s ills are only a product of America’s ills.

But that’s not to say the trickle isn’t already happening. We’ve seen more filmmakers bolstered by the many avenues now available to producing their visions, and we’ve seen more and more actors of color and marginalized communities speak out against terrible treatment in the industry. We’ve also seen the online community of movie fans—the audience members themselves—voice their frustration with the industry on social media, their message finding a place where it can be amplified and heard by The Powers That Be.

All of this led up to many watershed moments of representation in the past year, but none that inhabit the whole purpose of expanding the Academy more than Moonlight, an indie film showcasing a story about black gay men, winning the Oscar for Best Picture. Only two years ago, a film like that wouldn’t have made it to the nomination rounds. But, because of an Academy that had more minority members, Moonlight got the organization’s attention and became the Best Picture Winner, beating out a movie that couldn’t be more Status Quo if it tried, La La Land.

Also, the fact that more people from underrepresented communities will now have a chance to give other creators from underrepresented communities Oscar nods, it’ll give those creators the same clout and marketability their white counterparts have been enjoying for years. It’ll also give films featuring minority casts the same monetary and critical opportunities white films have never been without. In short, it’ll open up more possibilities in Hollywood for directors and actors, which will lead to more films being made, more awards given, and so on and so forth. The expansion of the Academy has the potential to have a snowball effect in Hollywood, and it can only be for the positive.

So, I, as a fellow entertainment analyst and critic myself, can’t abide the rhetoric that moves like these don’t change anything. It’s like telling the members of SNCC back in the ‘60s that their sit-ins at lunch counters wouldn’t amount to anything. Since we can now take for granted the concept of sitting at a booth in a restaurant, it would seem their sit-ins did make a world of difference. You can’t throw out progress just because it is slow and not immediately all-encompassing. That’s ridiculous.

I suggest for readers to take a look at Flavorwire’s article “THR Doesn’t Think All Those Women and POC ‘Merit’ Academy Inclusion'” by Jason Bailey, since he goes more in on Feinberg’s hitpiece-as-analysis way more than I did. But what Bailey writes at the end is particularly important:

It’s one thing for Academy members, terrified of their own obsolescence, to voice these thoughts in private (and, as writer Charles Bramesco notes, in the Reporter‘s loathsome annual tradition of ‘Anonymous Oscar ballots’). But it’s reprehensible for an industry publication like THR to hand Feinberg the bandwidth to mouthpiece it for them, with all the conviction of a country-club president who assures us that it means nothing that their membership is all-white. It’s just how things are done around here.

To end this on a positive note, I’m excited that so many actors, many of whom should have been a part of the Academy in the first place, have now been added to this illustrious roster. I’m sure they’ll serve the organization well, and I can’t wait to see what films they nominate for 2018.

 

What the New Study on Ancient Egypt Says About Media Representation

Science and the fight for representation in the media has intertwined in a brand new study coming from Germany. The study focuses specifically on ancient Egypt. What the scientists have to say about their findings could give Hollywood food for thought, if they decide to dissect the scientists’ results.

What the DNA discovery actually is

As CNN reports, researchers from Germany’s University of Tuebingen and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena have finally been able to do what scientists invested in studying Egypt have been trying to do for years–learn more about the genetic history of ancient Egyptians, a people who have been fought over by the Western World. That fight has played out in our modern media, with white actors playing the parts of historical ancient Egyptian characters, most notably the sheer number of actresses who have played Cleopatra.

The scientists used 151 mummies from Abusir el-Meleq, Middle Egypt. “The samples recovered from Middle Egypt span around 1,300 years of ancient Egyptian history from the New Kingdom to the Roman Period,” states the study, which was published in Nature Communications. The scientists found that ancient Egyptians from that area were more closely related to “Neolithic Anatolian and European populations.” Modern Egyptians, however, have more of a a genetic relationship with sub-Saharan Africans.

The reason behind the genetic surprise isn’t much of a surprise when you take into account the historical context the ancient folks of Abusir el-Meleq lived in. According to the study, Abusir el-Meleq was inhabited from around 3250BCE to about 700CE and was an attractive burial site because of its active cult to the god of the dead, Osiris. The site was part of a wider region during the third century BCE, a region that included the northern part of the Harakleopolites province and the Fayum and Memphite provinces, the latter two of which Abusir el-Meleq had close relations with. The Fayum province saw a huge influx in its population, more than likely from Greek immigration. During the Roman Period, many Roman veterans, described by the study as being people who weren’t “initially at least…Egyptian but people from disparate cultural backgrounds,” settled in the Fayum province after their time with the Roman army was done. After settling, they became a part of the local society and intermarried among the locals. Immigrants also influenced culture in Abusir el-Meleq, where coffins featuring Greek, Latin, and Hebrew names and Greek art remain.

However, the rate of intermarriage in the Fayum and surrounding areas was localized because of the high population of Greek and Roman immigrants. Intermarraige also seemed to serve political and social gains, since Roman citizenship was at stake and while Egyptians were granted citizenship under Roman rule, no doubt one could gain more rights of a Roman citizen if they married up, as it were.

“Our genetic time transect suggests genetic continuity between the Pre-Ptolemaic, Ptolemaic and Roman populations of Abusir el-Meleq, indicating that foreign rule impacted the town’s population only to a very limited degree at a genetic level. It is possible that the genetic impact of Greek and Roman immigration was more pronounced in the north-western Delta and the Fayum, where most Greek and Roman settlement concentrated, or among the higher classes of Egyptian society,” states the study. “Under Ptolemaic and Roman rule, ethnic descent was crucial to belonging to an elite group and afforded a privileged position in society. Especially in the Roman Period there may have been significant legal and social incentives to marry within one’s ethnic group, as individuals with Roman citizenship had to marry other Roman citizens to pass on their citizenship. Such policies are likely to have affected the intermarriage of Romans and non-Romans to a degree.”

The amount of sub-Saharan ancestry in modern Egyptians possibly comes from greater trade between the two regions. That trade also includes transporting slaves.

“Possible causal factors include increased mobility down the Nile and increased long-distance commerce between sub-Saharan Africa and Egypt,” states the study. “Trans-Saharan slave trade may have been particularly important as it moved between 6 and 7 million sub-Saharan slaves to Northern Africa over a span of some 1,250 years, reaching its high point in the nineteenth century.”

Despite the genetic breakthrough of tracing the genetic lineage of Abusir el-Meleq, the scientists stress that this one study probably (and more than likely isn’t) indicative of the lineage of the entirety of ancient Egypt.

“It is possible that populations in the south of Egypt were more closely related to those of Nubia and had a higher sub-Saharan genetic component, in which case the argument for an influx of sub-Saharan ancestries after the Roman Period might only be partially valid and have to be nuanced,” the study states. “Throughout Pharonic history that was intense interaction between Egypt and Nubia, ranging from trade to conquest and colonialism, and there is compelling evidence for ethnic complexity within households with Egyptian men marrying Nubian women and vice versa.”

In closing, the scientists stress that more studies need to be made of the ancient peoples of southern Egypt and Sudan in order to give a much more complete (or near-complete) picture of the vastness of the Egyptian genetic story.

Portrait of a woman from the Fayum province with a ringlet hairstyle, an orange chiton with black bands and rod-shaped earrings. Royal Museum of Scotland. (Public Domain)

How this affects the always-raging argument about how to portray ancient Egyptians in film and television? Does that mean Gods of Egypt is actually accurate??

Reading the original CNN article on this post, I knew there would be people, scholars who believe in the “Egypt-is-Anglo-Saxon” model in particular, who would take this study to mean that they are right and everyone who believes in a much more POC model of Egypt are wrong. While the study shows that there are European ties to ancient Egypt, some of these ties are what we’ve already learned from the history books–indeed, the Romans and the Greeks did come to Egypt due to its geological location as well as for political reasons (i.e. the Ptolemaic Dynasty–a Greek ruling family with origins in Macedonia–and the Roman Period), and Cleopatra herself, as the last Ptolemaic ruler, is of Egyptian and Greek-Macedonian background.

What is semi-new is the direct connection to Anatolia, otherwise known as Asia Minor or the Near East. Today, much of Anatolia is known as Turkey. While it’s always made sense that ancient Egyptians would share genetic connections to the Middle East simply because of Egypt’s geological location to many of the countries in the Middle East, the direct connection to Turkey has never been known.

In regard to this new knowledge, what does that mean for Hollywood when it comes to casting actors for films about ancient Egypt? Regarding this information about the citizens of Abusir el-Meleq, it would still be incorrect for a director to lazily cast characters since, going by old and new genetic information, ancient Egyptians were never “white” in the Western sense. For example, Gods of Egypt, which included actors hailing from Denmark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Australia (Brenton Thwaites), Scotland (Gerard Butler), and France (Elodie Yung, who is of French and Cambodian descent), is still historically incorrect and, just on a base level, visually upsetting. Even Chadwick Boseman, who is part of the African Diaspora, more than likely doesn’t share any strong genetic ties to Egypt. Most of the actors who would at least, visually, present a better vision of ancient Egypt were actors or crew who either had bit parts or went uncredited–Josh Farah, Wassim Hawat, Julian Maroun, Ishak Issa, and Rhavin Banda, to be specific. Of course, having these guys might not make the film any more or less accurate either, since this casting would be based solely on skin color and not on historical accuracy.

Hollywood actors who would have been perfectly suited for these roles would have been actors who are of Egyptian or Turkish background, such as Numan Acar (Homeland, of German and Turkish heritage), Deniz Akdeniz (I, Frankenstein, Once Upon a Time), Osman Soykut, also known as Ozman Sirgood (The Hot Chick, Alias, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, of Eastern European and Turkish heritage), Rami Malek (Mr. Robot, Night at the Museum series, of Egyptian heritage), Amr Waked (Lucy, Egyptian heritage), Khaled Nabawy (Kingdom of Heaven, Egyptian heritage), Sammy Sheik (American Sniper, Egyptian heritage), Ahmed Ahmed (Iron Man, Egyptian heritage), Kal Naga (Tyrant, Egyptian heritage) and plenty of other undiscovered Turkish and Egyptian actors in America looking to make their mark in Hollywood, as well as established Turkish and Egyptian actors who are looking to break into the American market. Ditto this list for a more accurate portrayal of biblical characters in Exodus: Gods and Kings.

However, that’s also not to say that the European ancestry of some ancient Egyptians shouldn’t be expressed in films. This needs to be done with care, since too often, the casting practice for Hollywood is, as we’ve seen with Gods of Egypt, to whitewash with abandon. Some of the actors I mentioned are biracial, which goes right into the picture that the study itself painted about the ancient Egyptians of Abusir el-Meleq. Overall, casting history should be done with care, not with Hollywood stereotyping and tropes.

Portrait of a man with sword belt from the Fayum province with British Museum. (Public Domain)

The Takeaways

If there’s been any production that made an effort to be at least visually appealing in regards to showcasing ancient Egypt is Spike’s TUT, which starred Avan Jogia and a mostly brown and black cast in an attempt to show how ancient Egypt and neighboring regimes in Sudan actually interacted with each other. Sure, it’s not historically accurate, but as far as Hollywood standards go, this was a knock out of the park. If Hollywood went in this direction more often, there might be less gripes from audience members.

In short, the new study doesn’t go against what folks who are vying for better represented Egyptian-themed movies have been preaching. If anything, it clarifies things even more. It showcases that there is not only a need to show ancient Egyptians as they actually looked, but there is also a need to remember that ancient Egyptians, just like us, existed in a multiracial, multicultural world, that included intermarriage and biracial/multiethnic offspring. It would be great if the people behind the films we loved showed an interest and curiosity in creating a film that not only had a great story, but also paid respect to the people whose stories they are telling.

Portrait of a man from the Fayum province, Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Public Domain)