Since the September 11th terrorist attack on the US, Arab Americans have been targets of slurs, stereotypes, hate crimes, and bigotry sometimes even exacerbated by the unfortunate ongoing Middle East conflict. This type of bias has been very destructive not only to the Arab community but to the US in general. Built on the foundation of tolerance and acceptance, targeting the Arab community and other groups only goes to malign the moral rectitude and stance of the US as the world police. As Arabs cower in fear, many Americans seem unaware of the vast contributions made by this hardworking group hence influencing how their lives might be shaped by their inventions and discoveries. History shows us that Arabs and Middle Easterners are no less than others who immigrated to the US and achieved as much success. Like other immigrant groups, Arab Americans contribute to whatever success the US enjoys economically, socially, politically, and on the world stage. The US entertainment industry is one of the many stages where the Arab-Americans left their mark.
The American entertainment industry is believed to be heterogeneous, featuring artists from different origins and races, yet a few white celebrities are often found stealing the limelight. However, some Middle Eastern artists have proven to not only be successful in their entertainment careers, but to be recognized for their stunning looks, fashion senses, and talents. Besides, they also endeavored to uproot ill-mannered thinking, racism, discrimination, and raising voices for human rights.
Here is a partial list of some of the success stories from the Arab-American community:
Omar Sharif: Arab-American Actor, And Hollywood Icon
Any list about the Arab-American artists can never be compiled without naming Omar Sharif Michael Yusef Dimitri Chalhoub (1932 – 2015), who was an Egyptian-American film and television actor. Sharif performed key roles in American, British, Italian, and French productions. Besides bagging many other esteemed awards, he had gotten a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Lawrence of Arabia.
A pioneer of international mobility and tolerance, Sharif was the first Egyptian to conquer Hollywood. He challenged stereotypes across the West and Arab world. He served as a symbol of the dying cosmopolitan era. With his ability to glide between cultures, he convinced the West there was no irreconcilable difference between the Middle East and the West, that the cultural divergence within them is greater than the difference between them.
Murray Abraham, Academy Award Winner
Murray Abraham is the first person of Arab descent to have won an Academy Award for Best Actor. He was born on 24th Oct. 1939 in Pennsylvania to immigrant parents. His father, Fred Abraham had moved to the US from Syria while his mother, Josephine Abraham was an Italian immigrant.
The immigrant roots of his parents helped him earn great honors: his father’s side made him the first Arab to win an Academy Award, while her mother’s side brought him the “Premio per gli Italiani nel Mondo,” a distinguished prize awarded by the Italian government to Italian emigrants and their descendants who have proved themselves abroad.
Rami Malek: Arab-American Star And Academy Award Winner
Rami Malek is the second actor with Arab roots (after F. Murray Abraham) who has won an Academy Award for Best Actor for Bohemian Rhapsody (2018). The Arab-American star of outstanding caliber and talent was also named by Time magazine one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
The Oscar winner gave credit to his background as a first-generation Egyptian-American immigrant in his acceptance speech, which demonstrated how important it is to have representation on the silver screen. By winning the Oscar, he changed the narrative regarding Arabs in Hollywood to some extent, as rightly said by professor of Arabic and Middle Eastern Islamic studies Souad Ali, “This is the first actor from Arab heritage to win the best actor, so this is significant enough and definitely will contribute to bringing awareness to the whole issue of Arab-Americans, Muslims, Muslim-Americans, Christians, Christian-Americans and he’s a Coptic himself.”
Jenna Dewan, American Actress, And Dancer
As every other Arab artist, Jenna Dewan started from small. During her early career, she was a backup dancer for Janet Jackson but soon appeared to be a prominent figure in Hollywood’s dance genre. The dancer, whose father is a Lebanese immigrant, had started from dance, has also proved herself in Hollywood as an actress of enormous caliber.
Dewan’s most recognizable movie role is probably the ‘Step Up’ franchise. She has also acted in TV roles including Teresa Morrison in ‘American Horror Story.’ In 2009, she was named one of the “most beautiful women from the Arab world.” Upon receiving this title, she tweeted: “Lol, my Lebanese family will love this.”
Jerry Seinfeld, American Stand-Up Comedian
Jerome (Jerry) Allen Seinfeld is a renowned actor, director, producer, and comedian of great caliber and hidden talents. Seinfeld – who is famous for playing his fictionalized role in the sitcom ‘Seinfeld,’ – is Syrian on his mother’s side. His show ‘Seinfeld,’ which was aired on NBC from 1989-98, is one of the most acclaimed and popular American sitcoms of all time.
He is an observational comedian who was named the 12th-greatest stand-up comedian of all time by the prestigious Comedy Central. His produced, and co-written film, Bee Movie was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Animated Feature Film.
DJ Khaled, American DJ
Khaled Mohamed Khaled, best known as DJ Khaled, is an American media personality, DJ, songwriter, and producer. Born in 1975 to Palestinian parents, Khaled is considered to be the most prominent personality of hip-hop. With a solid fan base, his stunning style, and fashion sense are widely followed in the US.
He is also a fashion designer who designs dresses only for himself, but many American celebrities have often been seen wearing dresses inspired by Khaled’s designs.
In all, Arab-American artists are very talented, handsome, and great human beings. They have been recognized globally for their being successful, hard-working, and skillful individuals, who not only excelled in their careers but also played leading roles in American society on personal levels by becoming activists, donors, and influencers.