Game of Thrones may steal many of the headlines following the 12 gongs claimed at last night's 68th Emmy Awards in Los Angeles — the drama has now surpassed Frasier's all time record of 37 Emmy wins — but there was also big news for the region with Rami Malek picking up the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama for his role in the futuristic thriller Mr Robot.
The 35-year-old Egyptian-American joins a select band of actors with roots in the Arab and wider Muslim world to have made a major effect on Western cinema and TV alongside the likes of Riz Ahmed (the Pakistani-British star of Jason Bourne and the forthcoming Star Wars: Rogue One) and Faran Tahir (the Pakistani-American star of The Jungle Book and Hawaii Five-0).
It’s a group that has been strangely void of new members since the passing away of Omar Sharif in last year.
In a present atmosphere in which distrust of Arabs and Muslims is rife, with tales of racial attacks or ejection from planes arising on a daily basis, the significance of the win was seemingly not lost on Malik
“I play a young man who is, like so many of us, profoundly alienated,” he said in his acceptance speech. “For me to stand here as not the typical leading man and coming home with this speaks a lot about where we are headed.
And we can go further in that direction [not just in entertainment] but socially and politically, to strive to be as progressive as possible.”
Mlek concluded: “I grew up in a family that emigrated here. My dad worked door-to-door to sell insurance. And my mom was pregnant with my brother and going to work, taking three buses, so they would give their children an opportunity to be special.”
Malek’s parents may have worked hard to help him get to where he is today, but he admits that, like many Arab parents, they were not always enthusiastic about his desire to become an actor.“
My parents did not want me to become an actor," he told Albawaba in a 2015 interview. "They wanted me to be a lawyer or a doctor so that I achieve a good financial and social status. But because I am crazy and stubborn, as they would say, I chose to study fine arts and theatre."
At first it looked like his parents may have had a point — on graduation in 2003, his initial approaches to production houses and studios were met with little response, and the aspiring actor was forced to give an Arabian twist to the tradition of unemployed actors waiting on in restaurants by finding work in Los Angeles’ shawarma and felafel houses.
In 2004, he finally landed his first guest role in the cult favourite The Gilmore Girls, and more TV roles slowly followed.
Two years later, his big movie break came. It's perhaps ironic that the role should have been that of the Pharoah in the 2006 comedy Night at the Museum starring the late Robin Williams.
Malek would go on to reprise the role in two sequels, in addition to picking up parts Egyptian vampire in the Twilight saga and an Arab terrorist in 24,
Malek doesn't seem too concerned about stereotyping: "Those were the roles that have gained worldwide fame. But I also played a young man from New York who quit his job to do the thing he liked in Need for Speed, and a warrior in The Pacific," he said. "Still, I would not decline roles of Arab or Egyptian characters if I am offered them."
With the world seemingly at his feet and with his first Emmy under his belt, for a role in which his Arabic heritage is incidental, Malek’s seems destined for greater things.
Let’s hope this is one small step for Rami Malek is in fact another giant leap for Arab actors in Hollywood.