If the opportunity to star in a Hollywood film means having to play a character that’s degrading to Arab Americans, Waleed Zuaiter won’t think twice about turning it down. Zuaiter is close to evolving into one of Hollywood’s most distinguished Arab American actors. He says Arab actors in Hollywood often avoid taking on roles that depict them negatively.
Too often, Arabs are portrayed as the bad guys in American films. But according to Zuaiter, that isn’t the case in the upcoming film ‘Elevator,’ which he recently finished shooting.
In the thriller, a group of people are stranded in an elevator 50 floors above the ground. Among the passengers are a woman who lost her son in the Iraq war and a Jewish comedian on his way to a Wall Street party. One of the passengers has a bomb. Because Zuaiter’s character, Mohammed is an Arab, people immediately draw the conclusion he has the explosive device.
But according to Zuaiter, Mohammed, a Muslim security guard from Dearborn, is not who passengers should be worried about. “The role of Mohammed is definitely against (the) stereotype and the script was so good I couldn’t stop reading it once I had started,” Zuaiter said in a news report. “My character isn’t what you’d expect. He’s from the Middle East and kind of quiet with a sense of mystery and darkness about him. You don’t really know what to expect from him.”
Zuaiter was shooting a film in Jordan and not available for comment, but the film’s producer Marc Rosenberg was and says he knows many Muslims, and wanted to avoid using stereotypes.
Rosenberg, an award-winning writer, has lived in Israel, where he said he often heard Jews refer to Arabs as their brothers. “One of the things I tell people is if people move away from stereotypes everyone has the same goals,” Rosenberg said. “Everyone has a voice and needs to be represented. I have a lot more interest in learning about other people than myself.” The film is expected to be released later this year. No date has been announced.
Zuaiter says the demand for Arab actors has grown since the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks, and before then Arabs were often played by Latinos, Indians or Pakistanis, he said in a report.
Zuaiter has appeared in major productions including ‘The Men Who Stare at Goats’ with George Clooney, ‘Sex and The City 2’ with Sarah Jessica Parker and in the well-known television mini-series ‘House of Saddam” in a co-starring role, proving yet again that Arab Americans can succeed in Hollywood.
Zuaiter was born in Sacramento, California and raised in Kuwait. He left the Middle East to pursue a degree in Philosophy and Theater at George Washington University. He is also fluent in both Arabic and English and speaks English without an accent.
His latest film is based on the Ibrahim Fawal Novel, ‘On the Hills of God,’ which chronicles the forced exile of Palestinians during the creation of the State of Israel.
Zuatier’s parents were not always accepting of his dreams to pursue a career in the film industry, however. He initially set out to become a lawyer before he launched his acting career with productions in Washington D.C. In addition, Zuaiter is the producer of the annual New York Arab American Comedy Festival and a member of the Arab American theater NIBRAS. His wife’s name is Joana. They have two children, Laith, 13, and a daughter Nour who is 10.
PHOTO: Movie stills from “Elevator” showcasing Zuaiter. Photos courtesy of Quite Nice Pictures