Hollywood, over the past decade, has become more and more diverse by creating movies which are fixated on a majority ethnic minority cast, including but not limited to “Moonlight” and “Hidden Figures“. Hollywood and many other mainstream Television networks are more often casting Hispanic, Black and Latinx actors to play lead roles in their projects, which is, fortunately, a huge step for diversity in Hollywood, however, there’s one ethnic group that is usually ignored rather than represented. Arabs
Try to name more than 5 Arab actors or actresses who are successful in the industry. Apart from Rami Malek, I don’t think many people can think of any other representation for this ethnic group in Hollywood which, frankly, says a lot about the number of Arabs that are cast in mainstream roles. It’s insulting how little effort is made to change this by casting more Arab actors, instead, time is spent assuming that people of colour are interchangeable and that Arabs can be played by Indians or other South Asian actors; for example, when casting for the new Aladdin Live Action movie specifically asked for “Middle Eastern” actors, a litany of people took it upon themselves to say Dev Patel or even Zayn Malik (both South Asian) should be cast as Aladdin despite their lack of a Middle Eastern descent.
And that is consistently the problem: this further perpetuation of the “all brown people are the same” stereotype and this assumption that just because most Arabs and South Asians have similar skin tones, they can play each other in movies and that should count as representation. No, you can’t exchange Arab actors for South Asian or vice versa, each individual representation for underrepresented groups has its own meaning and significance to said, groups. It makes us feel relevant, important and heard by Hollywood; it assures us that despite the events and horrific wars that transpire in our hometowns, we are not being ignored by mainstream media, we still have opportunities in Hollywood. It ensures us that we matter. So when you take that possibility away by limiting the number of Arab actors in big Hollywood projects, you’re giving off the sense that we don’t matter and we can be replaced by other people of colour who, in your eyes, will bode well for more views and money.
Hollywood can’t fully claim to be diverse when many minority groups still feel extremely underrepresented and minuscule in the world of Hollywood. It’s not difficult to refrain from white washing and cast actors who actually fit the background of the character, an Asian character will still be the same if you cast an Asian actor, a trans character will still be the same if you cast a trans actor and an Arab character will still be the same if you cast an Arab actor. There’s such predominant representation for most ethnic minorities yet it’s as if Arabs don’t exist in the eyes of Hollywood and it’s time that changed for us.
Essentially, I’m not saying diversity is a contest or representation is a game to be won, but it would be nice for young Arabs – or even just Arabs in general – to see someone who looks like them on screen more often.