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.