Check Out These Five Muslim Oscar Nominees and Winners

Check Out These Five Muslim Oscar Nominees and Winners

The Academy Awards has a history fraught with exclusionary practices, and has been the stage of cultural battles around marginalizing movies and work by creators from underrepresented backgrounds. Similar to the story of Native Americans in Hollywood, in recent years, Muslim creatives have been trying to take reign of how they are depicted in movies, and how they’re credited and compensated as cast or crew. Here’s a look at some Muslim Oscar nominees and winners.

1. Despite what many might imagine, Muslims have been on the Oscars scene for many years. In 1962, Egyptian actor Omar Sharif was the first Muslim nominated as Best Supporting Actor for his role in “Lawrence of Arabia.” Though he did not win, the film cleanly swept multiple other categories. Somehow everyone but Arabs got recognition for “Lawrence of Arabia.”

2. Algerian producer Ahmed Rachedi’s 1969 film “Z,” an adaption of a political thriller novel of the same name about the events surrounding assassination of a Greek politician, won the award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 1970 Oscars, and made history as the first foreign film to be nominated in the Best Picture category. Memorably, “Z” was also beloved by the Black Panther Party, who even screened it

3. The first Iranian to win an Academy Award was non-Muslim Ray Aghayan, who won three throughout the 1970s for his brilliant costume design. After much turmoil, Iranian film came back with a vengeance in the 1990s. Later, Asghar Farhadi became the first Iranian Muslim to outright win not one, but two Oscars, for Best Foreign Language Film for his movies “A Separation” (2012) and “The Salesman” (2017).

4. “Theeb” (2014), directed and co-written by Naji Abu Nowar, was the first film from Jordan to get an Oscar nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film category in 2014. However it didn’t win, and there is still a lack of bedouin-western hybrid movies in Hollywood. 

5. Actor Mahershala Ali became the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar for Supporting Actor, for his role in 2016’s “Moonlight,” and again in 2019 for “Green Book” (2018). Later, Riz Ahmed became the first Muslim nominated for the Lead Actor category for 2021’s “Sound of Metal.

Honorable Mention: Youssef Chahine, who grew up Christian and hated organized religion as an adult, nearly made history in 1959 when his acclaimed film “Cairo Station” missed out on a nomination after being submitted that year. When it came to making movies, Egypt had a headstart on other Muslim countries, producing many films and stars in the 50s at the same time as the Golden Age of Hollywood. While films from this era are famous for spectacle and “movie magic,” Cairo Station stands out for its gritty portrayal of the city in the 1950s, in the wake of a political revolution. Social mores were changing in Cairo, as evidenced by this rockabilly dance scene of Western influenced youth rocking out on a Cairo train. The plot follows a newspaper salesman’s dangerous obsession with a pretty young refreshments seller amidst a serial killer’s spree through the city. While Chahine himself was not Muslim, the film includes memorable performances from Hend Rostom (who was then often compared to Marilyn Monroe), Farid Chawky and Chahine himself as the villain — or anti-hero in this case.

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