Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 15 December 2019

Oscars 2019: Rami Malek becomes the first Egyptian to win Best Actor

'My parents are immigrants from Egypt, I am a first-generation American, my story is being written right now'

Rami Malek became the first Egyptian to pick up a Best Actor Oscar on Sunday night in Los Angeles, when he collected the statue for his role in the Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody.

The star used his acceptance speech to highlight his experiences as the child of immigrants to the US: "We made a film about an immigrant who lived his life unapologetically himself," he said, of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. "I am the son of immigrants from Egypt. I am a first-generation American, and my story is being written right now. I cannot be more grateful to each and every one of you."

Malek was born in Los Angeles to Coptic Egyptian immigrant parents, and has spoken in the past of the difficulties he had fitting in during his childhood, including the fact that none of his peers could pronounce his name.

"It took me until high school, where I found the confidence to tell everybody, no, my name is Rami. It's a very upsetting thing to think about, that I didn't have the confidence to correct anyone at that point," Malek told National Public Radio earlier this year.

The actor grew up speaking colloquial Egytian Arabic at home until the age of four, he told The New Yorker last year.

Malek studied at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, California, where he shared a musical theatre class with Kirsten Dunst. He has an identical twin brother named Sami, a teacher, who is younger by four minutes and an older sister, Yasmine, a doctor.

His parents emphasised to their children the importance of preserving their Egyptian roots, and his father would wake his son in the middle of the night to talk to his Arabic-speaking extended family in their Egyptian hometown of Samalut.

Ramik has remained true to his parents wishes throughout his growing success, and previously told the audience at the 2016 Critics Choice Awards: "It’s not just good to be different – it’s better to be different."

The actor made his big screen debut in 2006's Night at the Museum and its 2009 and 2014 sequels Battle of the Smithsonian and Secret of the Tomb playing, appropriately enough or stereotypically enough, depending on your viewpoint, Pharaoh Ahkmenrah.

He also had supporting roles in movies including 2012's teen vampire romance The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn and Spike Lee's 2013 Oldboy remake.

It was his Emmy Award-winning, and twice Golden Globe-nominated role as socially awkward computer hacker Eliot in the TV hit Mr Robot that really brought him into the spotlight, however. Malek won his Emmy in 2016, and in doing so became the first non-white actor to take home the Emmy for Best Lead Actor in a Television Drama Series in over 18 years.

Malek used his moment in the spotlight on Sunday night to pay tribute to his parents.

"My mom is in here somewhere — I love you lady," he said. "My family, thank you for all of this. My dad didn't get to see me do any of this, but I think he's looking down on me right now so this is a monumental moment."

Egypt and the Oscars: A history

Malek’s win is the latest, and perhaps greatest, in a succession of Egyptian brushes with the Oscars, which have to date proved to be near misses, that began when Youssef Chahine’s Cairo Station was unsuccessfully nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film award in 1959.

More recently Jehane Noujaim’s The Square was an unsuccessful nomination for the Best Documentary prize at 2014’s ceremony, while Omar Sharif famously missed out on a Best Supporting Actor award for his role in David Lean’s 1962 classic Lawrence of Arabia.

Malek picked up the award on the night by offering thanks to Queen and his mother, who clearly pays a big part in Malek's life - the actor previously took her as his "date" to the Golden Globes. He has also previously taken his cousin to the Emmy Awards.

Malek also notably omitted to mention Bohemian Rhapsody’s director Bryan Singer in his Oscars acceptance speech. Singer is the latest Hollywood name to be mired in allegations of abuse and sexual misconduct, and Dexter Fletcher completed shooting the film’s final scenes following Singer’s removal from the set.

Malek's success in the coveted Oscar category is a fitting high point in his rags-to-riches story. The unassuming son of an insurance salesman father and an accountant mother who moved to Los Angeles in 1978 once made falafel sandwiches and shwarma in a Hollywood restaurant to help support himself while starting out as a young actor. He can now take his seat at the top table with Hollywood's A-listers and be assured that his days serving falafel are behind him.

Updated: February 25, 2019 04:37 PM

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