‘Moon Knight’ star May Calamawy talks bringing authentic portrayals of Arab women to the screen

May Calamawy
Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images

In an interview with Elle, May Calamawy opened up about her experiences breaking into the entertainment industry and how she intends to subvert the stereotypical portrayals of Arab women by taking on a variety of roles.

The actress cited Moon Knight as a space that’s embracing the authenticity of its female Arab characters, noting how director Mohamed Diab intended to depict a realistic Egypt as a whole. This very much extends to its characters, such as Calamawy’s character Layla El-Faouly, Moon Knight’s ally and wife who spends about as much time adventuring and socking it to Arthur Harrow’s men as the series lead does.

“Anytime I felt uncomfortable, I would go talk to [Mohamed] and his wife and I love how Kevin Feige gave us the freedom to share that, let people know, ‘This is not what it’s like, if we do that it’s gonna be a stereotype. I realized quite early on this is a space where my voice was going to be heard and that’s the best feeling.”

Diab and his wife and producing partner Sarah Golfer decided to make Layla, who was originally white, half-Egyptian in the series that is based partially on Egyptian mythology,

Prior to her Marvel debut, she landed a co-starring role on the comedy-drama series Ramy as Dena Hassad, the sister of the titular series lead. Praised for its portrayal of Muslims, Calamawy noted how the series offered her a chance to really play herself, and how it also deconstructed the lens that media tends to put on Arab characters.

“I just wanted to play myself, I said that to an agent and then a few months later, I booked this role on Ramy, which offered me that. We did target some of those issues that pop up about men fetishizing Arab women and we will only be able to get out of that when we see a large range of Arab women in Western cinema.”

In Moon Knight, her take on Layla is multifaceted, “Every woman I know is a bunch of dichotomies, and I wanted to bring that.”

Moon Knight is currently streaming on Disney Plus.