The Hollywood Connection
Afghan celebrities may not have too many mainstream Hollywood roles to their credit but they have certainly made their mark with some memorable performances.
A number of Afghan men and women have made their mark in the
For years now, the entertainment industry in the west has portrayed the Arab world (synonymous with the Muslim world now) as monodimensional evil villains. During the Cold War and up until the late 1980s, western media used the Soviets and the communists as the “default villain.” However, in recent years, Muslims – particularly Afghans and Arabs – have taken on this role. Although this phenomenon has historical roots in the United States’ dominant conflict shifting from the Cold War to the Gulf War and then to the Afghan war, it is undeniable that the western media is not doing the Muslims – the Afghans, especially – any favors through their portrayals in the media.
The trend, however, has somewhat changed recently thanks to the presence of many an Afghan actor and director in Hollywood. These men and women are striving to break the stereotypes that exist about the Afghan people in the west and have made their mark in the industry.
Consider, for example, Enayat Delawary who was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, but eventually moved to Germany in 1973 where he got a degree in Political Science. It was there that Delawary worked in close collaboration with scholars, filmmakers and journalists to translate books and make documentaries. He has worked with some of the world’s most esteemed directors as a dialect coach, translator, cultural adviser and actor on multiple films.
Delawary served in all of these capacities for Mike Nichols’ 'Charlie
Wilson’s War' and Jim Sheridan’s 'Brothers'. He worked closely with both directors throughout all stages of production. “My passion for my homeland and a lifetime of ongoing curiosity has enabled me to provide accurate representation of the Afghan people, Afghanistan and the entire Central Asian region in Hollywood,” Delawary said in an interview after the release of 'Charlie Wilson’s War'.
Then there is the acclaimed actor Fahim Fazli who is a man of two worlds – Afghanistan, the country of his birth and America, the nation he adopted and has grown to love. Fahim came to the United States as a refugee where he found his dream profession. While his role in the blockbuster hit 'Iron Man' was yet another clichéd portrayal of the Afghans in the western media (he plays an Afghan terrorist who kidnaps
American billionaire Tony Stark and holds him captive for days), his biography ‘Fahim Speaks: A WarriorAActor’s Odyssey from Afghanistan to Hollywood and Back’ talks about his jjourney from Afghanistan to the U.S. and back to his homeland and dispels some commonly held misleading ideas about the Afghan nation. He is a man who escaped oppression, ffound his dream profession and then returned to Afghanistan to work as an interpreter.
Of course, no list of Afghan actors is complete without Ali Olomi who moved to San Diego, California at a very young age with his family before eventually moving to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting. His lead roles in short films have earned him praise at the Cannes International Film Festival, the Asian Film Festival, the Brussels Belgium Film Competition, the Canada Film Festival, the San Diego Film Festival and other international film events. Besides Hollywood feature films, he has also appeared in independent films, student films, TV series and various commercials.
Also worth mentioning here is actor Walid Amini who is known for his performances in 'Not Today' and
'The Black Tulip'. He won the Best Lead Actor (Breakthrough Performance) at the Monaco Film Festival in May 2012 for 'The Black Tulip'. Amini has yet to make his presence felt in Hollywood but he shows promise as an actor. Critics say that his passion and commitment to the profession is likely to take him places if he is given meatier roles in more mainstream movies.
Afghan women are far and few between in Hollywood. The ones who are working in the industry have carved a niche for themselves. Notable among them is Sitara Attaie who grew up in the Netherlands but took up America as her new home. Sitara received her BFA in English Literature and Theater from the Rijks University in Groningen, and has been formally trained in method acting at the worldrenowned Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in West Hollywood and is currently studying at The Actor’s Workshop.
As an actress and voiceover artist, Sitara Attaie has worked on major productions such as Showtime’s 'Homeland' (Emmy Award – Best Drama Series 2012), the Oscarwinning film 'Argo' (Academy Award – Best Picture 2013), 'RED 2', 'The Fault In Our Stars', and popular television shows such as 'True Blood',
'CIS', 'Bones', and 'Nikita'. She has also done several Indie movies, commercials and music videos. Her proficiency in five languages has brought her many hosting gigs for live and television shows. She has promoted the European shows of Bollywood megastars such as Shahrukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan, John Abraham and Priyanka Chopra. She is also a choreographer and taught Bollywood dance at the Dansschool Klaassens. Sitara has worked as a journalist, writing for a variety of media and also won beauty pageants in The Netherlands and Turkey.
Award-winning actress Fereshta Kazemi is one of the most successful Afghan actresses in Hollywood. Her energy, talent and continuous fight to bring a fresh view to cinema inspire many. Whether one is in Afghanistan or the U.S., Fereshta carries that special ‘aura’ to pull any viewer to the screen. She received rave reviews for her performance in her first U.S. feature film ' Targeting' while 'Heal', a movie about Afghanistan, also won several awards and recognized her acting skills. She says her goals are to continue to act in films, in particular socially conscious stories which challenge western perceptions of the world and where one learns something. However, she is also open to the idea of romantic comedies and action adventure films which are some of her favorite genres besides drama.
Be it actors or directors, Afghan celebrities have made waves with their memorable contributions to Hollywood. They may not have too many mainstream roles to their credit but they have certainly helped in dispelling misconceptions about Afghanistan in the western media.