On April 19, 2019, the series “Ramy” premiered on Hulu. Since then, it has received 2 Golden Globe nominations and one win, amassed large support during its two-season run and is considered one of Hulu’s most successful comedies. Created by Ramy Youssef, who also stars in the show, the series is loosely based on his own life growing up in an Arab Muslim family in New Jersey.
The show follows 20-something Ramy Hassan, a first-generation Egyptian-American grappling with his identity and Muslim faith. Ramy finds himself at a stand-still in life from his career to his education and relationships. In an effort to understand the age-old question “Who am I?,”– he turns to his culture and faith. Whether it be through Ramy’s sexual endeavors he tries to make sense of, his Muslim friend’s endless “last-time” drunken nights or his experience selling blood-diamonds –– the characters are constantly testing their personal boundaries of right and wrong. The stark dichotomy between the standards of morality present in Arab and Muslim cultures and the mainstream American millennial experience, balanced with outstanding writing, makes for great comedy. Through the characters’ struggles in “Ramy”, viewers are granted insight into the nuances of being a child of immigrants and the attempts to find internal acceptance of their “otherness.”
“Ramy” portrays this experience through the lens of an Arab and Muslim family growing up in post-9/11 America. The specific representation of Arabs and Muslims in Ramy is crucial given the growth in Islamophobia as a result of the U.S. War on Terror. American commercial media has historically created a blanket-portrayal of this complex identity, with sparse representations of Arab and Muslim identities outside the context of terrorism. By the act of simply telling the raw story of an Arab Muslim family, “Ramy” brings forth honesty, love and normalcy to contrast media's historically harmful portrayals.
The series’ work pushes this story further by simply being exceptional: from scenes that make audiences die laughing –– like Ramy’s sister Dena flirting with the Sheik (played by Mahershala Ali) –– to tackling internal conflicts regarding queerness, sex and feminism in Arab and Islamic culture. In Mia Khalifa’s season two feature, she addresses the backlash she received from majority-Muslim countries due to her career in adult film, stating, “Statistically, Muslim countries consume more porn than anyone else; the men who are yelling at me are the same men that are clicking on me.” Khalifa’s monologue demonstrates how “Ramy” calls for conversations within the Arab and Muslim community, while simultaneously sharing a compelling narrative about a complex identity to American audiences. This is the show’s most impressive feat — it finds the footing to create art that outwardly educates, while internally calling for necessary conversations –– a balancing act activists, academics and artists of color often find themselves tethering on.
Alongside the show’s ability to progress dialogue, it gives Arab and Muslim Americans their deserved and accurate representation. When the show aired, my 30-year-old uncle told me the show was the first time he ever watched anything that made him feel understood. Everything that Ramy goes through resonated with my uncle’s own feelings at some point in his life. As someone who shares Ramy’s Arab and Muslim identity, I found myself pushing all of my friends to watch the series, hoping they would watch it and better understand me.
With the pressing relevance and need for accurate representation in film today, “Ramy” highlights the strength and quality of a narrative that showcases both the beauty and struggles present in the diaspora, while being painfully funny. For anyone lost between the intersectionality of their immigrant and American identities or trying to learn the “truth” about Princess Diana, "Ramy" is required viewing.
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