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Rami Malek: First Arab American to Win an Emmy for Best Actor in a Drama Series

posted on: Sep 21, 2016

Rami Malek: First Arab American to Win an Emmy
Rami Malek speaks onstage during the 68th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 18, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.

BY: Nisreen Eadeh/Staff Writer

On Sunday night, America watched an Arab American actor win one of the highest awards in the television industry’s most prestigious night. Rami Malek, star of the USA program Mr. Robot, is the first minority to win Best Actor in a Drama Series since the 1998 Emmys. He is also the first Arab American to ever win an Emmy in this category.

When Rami Malek, the son of Egyptian immigrants, took the stage to accept his award, America saw the future of television. “I play a young man who is, like so many of us, profoundly alienated,” he said during his speech. Malek is the first man to receive this award in several years who does not play a rogue or villainous character. For ten years, the Best Actor in a Drama Series award has gone to white, antihero characters who live without regard for society, such Don Draper of Mad Men and Walter White of Breaking Bad.

Malek, on the other hand, plays the character Elliot Alderson, a vigilante computer hacker who works by night to take down corrupt American corporations, all while fighting mental illness.

Some have downplayed the actor’s win because Malek plays a white character, but Arab Americans and the Arab world are celebrating the award regardless.

Both Rami Malek and his character have broken an Emmys streak, symbolizing what’s to come in the future of television. Malek’s win is destabilizing the film industry’s myth that no one would go see a blockbuster film starring “Mohammad so-and-so” or “black and brown people.”

The 68th Primetime Emmys were one of the most diverse award shows in recent history. Unlike the 2016 Oscars, which donned all white nominees in the main categories again this year, the Emmys showcased the talents of Asian American, Black, and Latino actors and writers, as well.

This diversity win was not lost on Malek. “For me to stand here as not the typical leading man and to come home with this speaks a lot about where we’re headed,” Rami said in his backstage interview. “I think we can just keep going further in that direction. It’s not just limited to entertainment, but socially and politically… we continue and strive to be as progressive as possible.”

Malek also praised his parents who worked to give him and his siblings the careers they have today. The Maleks come from the ancient Coptic Christian minority of Egypt. Rami’s father was a tour guide in Cairo before moving his family to California for better work opportunities.

“My sister’s an ER doctor, my brother’s a teacher, and I’m standing here today,” Malek said. “I think a lot of people can relate to wanting an opportunity, and I’ve wanted an opportunity. And now I have it.”

The show’s creator and producer, Sam Esmail, is also Egyptian American. After only one season, Mr. Robot was nominated for Outstanding Writing for a Drama and Outstanding Drama, both of which were lost to Game of Thrones. However, the nomination alone shows a promising future for a growing Arab American presence at the awards show in years to come.

Watch Rami Malek’s backstage speech here: