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CHICAGO: More Arabs are entering the moviemaking industry, not just as actors but also as entrepreneurs, and are increasingly involved in writing, producing, casting and directing.

This is according to Egyptian-American Mico Saad, an actor and filmmaker and member of the Golden Globes Jury, and Lebanese-American Hamzah Saman, the president of his own casting company.

They told Arab News changes were necessary to push open the doors of Hollywood filmmaking which plays a major role in defining how the world sees people of different cultures.

Saad immigrated to England from Alexandria, Egypt, where he discovered a robust filmmaking industry. And then in 2018 he immigrated to America which he calls “the entertainment capital of the world,” where he carved out a career as an actor and producer  of several TV shows.

 

“Back in the day, all the people wanted was to just be actors … Nowadays, it has changed drastically because people want to do these blockbuster films. They want to write. They want to direct. They want to create,” said Saad during an interview on The Ray Hanania Radio Show sponsored by Arab News.

“There (are) more creators now than actors, which is kind of like, strange because back in the day everyone wanted to be an actor. It’s like how many producers do you know? A few. How many actors do you know? A lot. So, it’s kind of changed now thanks also to the streaming platforms which allows more people — and the film festival — allows more people to create their own stuff and talk about the stuff that really matters to them. Storytelling in the industry that we are in, it is fantastic that we have more filmmakers in the Middle East than ever. We have more filmmakers than actors. Back in the day everyone wanted to be an actor.”

Saad added: “There are many Arabs in so many ways, not just as actors. There is producers, directors, set designers, animation. We are everywhere. Arabs are everywhere in the industry but not in the way that they would want. Not the way they desire.”

Saad said the move by Arabs into filmmaking has resulted in a more effective means of countering anti-Arab stereotypes that have dominated the vast majority of Hollywood movies that have Middle East themes and Arab characters.

 

“The new villain is not the Arabs. The new villain now is the virus. The virus is going to take over hopefully from the Arab kind of thing in the future. And it is going to mean getting in movies,” Saad said.

The more the public and audiences see Arabs in different roles, the more it will undermine endemic stereotyping, he said.

“There always has to be a villain whether it is Arab or non-Arabs. There always has to be a villain. And unluckily for Arabs, they were the villains for the past 20 years or more and this is because of what happened on the international stage. Which is kind of like generalized (for) everybody to be put in this category. If you are an Arab or you look like an Arab. If you are an actor and you come in here, you don’t want to be stereotyped for any political reason.”

He added: “The goal is always (for) us to entertain. But now I want to kind of do something where I get the hand of everyone next to me and we go up together. That would be the ultimate goal to make something that deletes the stereotype. ‘Hey, this is Mico, he is from Egypt. And he is fine, he is like us.’”

Saad has worked with Ricky Gervais, Anthony Hopkins, and other notable actors, and produced several short films. He was recognized with a Best Actor Award and Best Short Film Award by the Action on Film International Film Festival for “Al-Masry Life,” which he wrote, directed, and starred in alongside prominent Hollywood Egyptian-American actor Sayed Badreya. The film was described as “a gem” by the Oscar-winning filmmaker Peter Farrelly.

Saad said that the pursuit of an acting and production career was motivated by his life in Egypt which he called “the Hollywood for Arabs.”

 

 

“I was born in Alexandria, Egypt, luckily. I didn’t choose to, I was just lucky. Being born in Egypt has such an impact on you artistically, because in Egypt we have been doing movies for over 100 years. Egypt is the Hollywood of the Arabs, pretty much. We have a lot of people there who create, make music, make movies,” Saad said.

“And it’s been like there ever since. Growing up seeing all of this has kind of equipped me with a taste, equipped me with wanting to be part of the entertainment industry at such a young age and I started at a young age, as young as at 5 years old. I started with a few things like dancing for the National Team of Egypt Troupe which is very famous in the Arab world and started acting at a young age. And, it kind of (saw) love, kind of growing in me day by day. I am very lucky to experience such a thing.”

Filmmaking has expanded from Egypt into many Arab countries over the past century including Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Tunisia, Morocco and Saudi Arabia, Saad noted.

 

 

“This is what we need. We need more creators. Instead of sitting here and criticizing Hollywood and criticizing people for not: ‘Oh why are you not representing me right?’ Because he doesn’t know. Why don’t I do, make something, that represents me right. And then if it is good, and if it is kind of in the entertaining way, they will take it. Everybody will take it. It’s kind of, I urge everybody instead of complaining about not being represented right, do your own thing … We need more creators,” Saad said.

Meanwhile Saman, who began acting in 2006, shifted to casting and launched a company Arab American Casting. He is a member of the prestigious Casting Society of America.

Born in Beirut, Saman was young when he lost his father during one of the wars in Lebanon. He was raised by a grandmother who loved to watch soap operas and movies, which influenced him to pursue acting. 

Saman said he eventually recognized that there were not enough Arab actors in Hollywood and he shifted his focus to casting. He initially worked in the LA Casting Unit on the documentary “He Named Me Malala” (2015) with the Oscar-winning director Davis Guggenheim. He also helped with casting for the film “Argo” (2012).

Saman has been working to change the perception of Arab and Middle Eastern artists in Hollywood through his work, including casting Malek Rahbani in a leading role in the 2022 film “Jacir” alongside Lorraine Bracco and Darius Tutwiler. The film tells the story of a poor Syrian refugee who pursues the American dream on the streets of Memphis.

As a casting director, Saman has worked on more than 40 feature, and short films, commercials, and television shows. His website is ArabActors.com.

Saad and Saman made the comments during appearances on The Ray Hanania Radio Show broadcast Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023, on the US Arab Radio Network sponsored by Arab News newspaper.

You can listen to the radio show’s podcast by visiting ArabNews.com/rayradioshow.

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