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.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Sam­ina Wahid The writer is a free­lance jour­nal­ist who con­trib­utes reg­u­larly to var­i­ous lead­ing pub­li­ca­tions.

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.

Si­tara At­taie

Fereshta Kazemi

Walid Amini

Ali Olomi

Fahim Fa­zli

Enayat Delawary

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