Egyptian American Hollywood actor Rami Malek stars in a new hit series “Mr. Robot” on high tech computer warfare and hacking broadcast on the USA Network on Cable Television. Malek joins a small exclusive club of American Arabs who have made it to Hollywood movie and television series fame.
By Ray Hanania
Every time I see an Arab portraying any character in a Hollywood movie, and especially on a television series, I point them out to my wife, who immediately responds, “Why do you do that every time you see an Arab on TV?”
Well, because usually the only time we see Arabs on TV is when they are being stereotyped as terrorists by the biased, anti-Arab American mainstream news media which includes the even more biased Hollywood film industry and the television industry.
There are just so few role models for American Arabs. In a way, much of the extremism and even violence is in part the responsibility of this bias which casts most Arabs as vicious terrorists in a political game managed through high-financed public relations spin by pro-Israel activists and their pals.
Let me repeat the point: the extremist domestic violence by Arabs and Muslims in America in a large part is the fault of the bias of the mainstream news media which presents only negative images to the feeble-minded American public, which is so easily placed in a headlock of anti-Arab hysteria.
As a young American Arab, I grew up with every terrorist looking like one of my cousins, uncles and family members. For many, that’s a unique pressure that may push one out of 100,000 people over the edge into embracing violence and fanaticism.
So I was excited this week when I started to watch the new USA Network series “Mr. Robot” which stars Rami Malek, an Egyptian American Arab actor in a compelling drama that is among the best out on cable television this season.
Malek has a strong career in acting. He began his Hollywood career in guest-roles on several television shows before making his feature film debut in Night at the Museum (2006). He was a regular on the FOX comedy series The War at Home (2005-2007) and on the HBO miniseries The Pacific (2010). Malek appeared in Larry Crowne (2011) and had integral parts in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master and in the final installment of The Twilight Saga (2012). In 2013, he appeared in the independent films Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, the remake of Oldboy and starred in critically praised Short Term 12. The following year, he starred in the Need for Speed, The Night at the Museum sequel and Spike Lee’s Da Sweet Blood of Jesus.
Malek co-stars with one of my favorite intense Hollywood actors, Christian Slater, who was the lead male character in the phenomenal movie of all time, True Romance, which also starred Patricia Arquette (who plays Alabama). This is more than a cult classic, as it is often described. True Romance is one of the best films ever made.
And that always makes me repeat the great line from the Slater film, True Romance, (slightly edited), by Alabama’s pimp, Drexl Spivey (played by Gary Oldman), “He must have thought it was Arab boy day. It ain’t Arab boy day, is it?”
Malek plays “Elliot” in Mr. Robot, an American cyberpunk thriller–drama television series created by Executive Producer Sam Esmail, who also happens to be a successful Egyptian American Arab actor and producer.
The network promo describes Ellit’s character in this way:
As a senior network technician for cyber security firm Allsafe, Elliot protects corporate clients — including the ubiquitous Evil Corp — from security breaches and data theft. As a vigilante hacker, he monitors the people in his daily life and protects those he’s close to from their own flaws, sometimes with unpredictable results. Originally from Washington Township, New Jersey, Elliot now lives alone on the Lower East Side. He suffers from crippling anxiety, which stems from memories of his difficult childhood. His father died when Elliot was young, and his now-estranged mother was brutally cruel. Elliot has spent most of his adult life isolated from the world around him.
After being arrested for financial hacking, he has been attending court-ordered therapy for almost a year. Elliot, however, prefers self-medication by morphine, an addiction he mediates with suboxone. He obtains both from his next door neighbor, Shayla. With the arrival of Mr. Robot, Elliot’s world changes entirely. Fsociety’s members and mission offer him a renewed purpose — though accompanied by a risk of heightened paranoia — leaving him faced with the question of whether to numbly continue the life he knows or risk everything and participate in Mr. Robot’s revolution.
Malek is also celebrated in personality news and gossip as the boyfriend of actress Emmy Rossum, which means he has really made it as an Arab in America. Rossum is the phenomenal actress from one of the best series on TV, Showtime’s Shameless.
Mr. Robot has its own Facebook Page, too, that you’ll want to follow. It’s one of the best TV series out this season. Complex. Fascinating. Exciting.
Tragically, the Arab World really doesn’t get the whole power of media and movies, and especially the TV series. The Arab World has billionaires with so much money they could easily buy out one of the Hollywood movie companies or the TV production houses, if they wanted. But they just don’t understand that Americans are moved by what they see in the media. Hollywood movies and TV sitcoms, especially, can changed how the public views the Arab World.
I always thought my story would be the basis for a great TV sitcom, me being Palestinian Arab and my wife and son being Jewish. But without backing from the Arab World, we have to wait for Darwin’s theory on evolutionary change. While that can be a long wait, Malek, Slater and Esmail have made a great start, breaking down the stereotypes and placing American Arabs in roles that sometimes have nothing to do with their heritage other than that the audience might associate their successes with that heritage.