People continue to discuss the “white-washing” of Hollywood, but the one thing they very much overlook is the “brown-brushing” of Middle Eastern characters in films ever since the dawn of cinema.
Middle Eastern people almost never play Middle Eastern characters. Typically, we are depicted by Latinos, European Latins or Anglos. In 1921, The Sheik starred Italian actor, Rudolph Valentino. In 1924, Douglas Fairbanks was the star of The Thief of Baghdad. In 1985’s Back to the Future, the Libyan terrorists were played by Richard L. Duran and Jeff O’Haco. In 1986, the villain in the Chuck Norris action classic, The Delta Force; Anglo actor Robert Forster portrayed Abdul. Even in 2014, the smash hit FX series Tyrant, with a majority Middle Eastern cast has Englishman, Adam Rayner as the protagonist, Bassam.
This Friday, 2oth Century Fox will release X-Men: Apocalypse, with a villain named En Sabah Nur (translation: The Good Night) aka Apocalypse, the first mutant who believes himself to be a god. Apocalypse has an Egyptian acolyte named Ororo Munroe aka Storm, who later joins the team lead by Professor X. The problem is that Apocalypse is played by Guatemalan actor Oscar Isaac and Storm is portrayed by African-American actress Alexandra Shipp.
In an age where everyone is crying about ethnic accuracy in film, the one population that continuously gets ignored are Middle Eastern characters. The only time Tony Shalhoub played Lebanese was 1998’s The Seige. Omar Sharif (real name Michel Demetri Shalhoub), who is also Lebanese, but claimed to be Egyptian to get work in Egypt, played an Arab in a handful of American films. As far as I know, Rami Malek is the only Egyptian-American actor to ever play an actual Egyptian in the Night at the Museum franchise. Ironically, Assyrian actor F. Murray Abraham, has played a Hispanic character where he portrayed Omar Suarez in 1983’s Scarface and Italian composer, Antonio Salieri in 1984’s Amadeus.
What’s most insulting are all the British actors who play Middle Eastern characters in the majority of Hollywood films. It is a constant reminder of colonialism in the region. A foundation of sand laid out by the British Empire in Iraq, Iran, the Gulf States and Egypt, transforming the birth place of Western Civilization into third world nations run by Islamofascists. Thanks to President Jimmy Carter and British Prime Minster James Callaghan, Iran went from the most modern nation in the region and was transformed into an oppressive theocracy.
Oscar Isaac has played more than one Middle Eastern character. He also played St. Joseph in 2006’s, The Nativity Story. The main question is, that if everyone is outraged by Scarlett Johansson being cast in Ghost in the Shell, and Emma Stone being a quarter East Asian in Aloha, should the same outrage not be given to casting of non-Middle Eastern actors being cast as Middle Eastern characters?
Is the only issue that Hollywood is casting Anglo actresses in East Asian roles or is it not a big enough deal for other cultures because they are just a different shade of brown and that’s close enough for the general population?