Ramy And Ms. Marvel Actor Laith Nakli Shares Why His Recent Arab American Characters Push Back Against Stereotypes

As Ramy Season 3 arrives to Hulu’s new releases, Laith Nakli’s Uncle Naseem returns to the series as Ramy’s politically-incorrect uncle and New Jersey jeweler. It comes a few months following the actor entering the Marvel universe as Kamala Khan’s Imam. Between playing both Arab American and rare great Muslim roles, Nakli spoke to CinemaBlend about his experience with both characters. 

For many years, Arab American roles have been portrayed as villains and terrorists, which Laith Nakli has played earlier in his career. But when it comes to Ramy and Ms. Marvel, the actor is proud of playing characters outside of the stereotypes and harmful portrayals we’ve seen from Muslim and Arab characters in the past. In his words to CinemaBlend: 

They're so different yet they're so the same. And what I mean by that, they're so real, because these are real people. Like Uncle Nassim is someone that for instance, a lot of Arabs don't wanna see because like, 'Oh, why are you making us look bad?' You know, like, but you know, it's not only you there, there's an Arab uncle, there's a Jewish, there's everyone who has an uncle like that. And so that's why everyone relates to the show, not just Arabs.

As Nakli shared with us, Uncle Naseem is an honest portrayal of a person, rather than a projection of what Arab Americans should be or are perceived as. While he says a ton of offensive things throughout the series, he’s playing to that uncle we can all relate to having, no matter what background one comes from. The actor continued: 

And for [Ms. Marvel’s] Imam, and the reason I accepted the role, because initially I didn't wanna do it because I thought it was a stereotypical character, until I read everything. But, I'm like, here's an Imam who's really cool, who's very chill, and he's an imam that would make me wanna go to the mosque and hear him talk. And he's funny. He laughs. Every time an imam is depicted on TV and film, they are very just very strict and very two-dimensional. You know, what people expect of a religious figure… I love that they're very just real and very connected and very committed to who they are.

Nakli plays two very different characters on two very different shows, but he drew comparisons between them because both feel “real” in terms of how they are written rather than being two-dimensional. Each of them play outside of the stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims we’ve seen many times before. In the instance of Ramy, he’s playing a relatable character that happens to be an Egyptian immigrant living in America. Through that lens, there are things such as his cultural and religious upbringing that make living in our society not easy, including difficulty accepting his sexuality, as Ramy Season 2 left us wondering about

In Ms. Marvel, Laith Nakli got to portray a Muslim Imam, who leads prayers in mosques and is easygoing. He also offers Ms. Marvel’s Kamala Khan helpful advice when it comes to accepting her heroic identity. Along with Ramy being a Golden Globe winner and Emmy nominated series, the reactions of Ms. Marvel were particularly positive, including the first depictions of Muslims in the MCU. 

In a recent report by USC (via Deadline), it was estimated that just 1.1% of characters in 100 popular U.S. films made from 2017 to 2019 were Muslim, and 90.5% of 200 films worldwide did not feature speaking Muslim characters. There’s clearly still a lack of representation for Muslim and Arab characters in Hollywood, but with things such as Laith Nakli’s latest roles on the TV schedule, the tides are beginning to turn for diversity. 

For more information bout the new season of Ramy, which is now streaming on Hulu, check out CinemaBlend’s interview with Ramy Youssef.

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.