May Calamawy is an Egyptian-Palestinian actress. She was born in Bahrain and moved to Boston, Massachusetts to earn a B.A in theatre arts after graduating high school. She has since then notably appeared in Djinn, the first horror movie produced in the U.AE., and Ramy, an award-winning comedy-drama series about American Muslims. Just recently, she joined the Marvel Universe by playing Layla in Moon Knight.
I first saw her in Ramy, as Dena, Ramy’s outspoken sister. Seeing her journey with self-doubt spoke so much to the fetishization, misogyny, and hypocrisy that Arab women face. The more I learn about Calamawy, the more I learn just how much of herself she puts into her characters.
To say the least, we are head over heels in love with May Calamawy! We can’t wait to see more of her outstanding representation of Arab women all around the world. So, here are some of the reasons why we love her!
Breaking Gender Norms
Calamawy is an inspiration to all Arab women who try to break out of restrictive gender roles, that society often enforces. She applied to Emerson college and told her Egyptian father and Jordanian mom, “If I get in, I’m going”.
Calamawy’s father initially did not want her to become an actress, but did not get in her way and supported her. She has often talked about the importance of believing in yourself as a woman when no one else does. She does her best to not let norms stand in her way, and that’s just one of the reasons why we love her!
Dedication to her Arab Roots
Calamawy has discussed her struggles with being an Arab actress because she understood her opportunity to get roles would be limited. Nevertheless, she mentioned in interviews that she “like[s] the fact that in the States there aren’t a lot of people who know that I’m Arabic, because they have a stereotypical view of what Arabs look like”.
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During the production of Moon Knight, she was careful not to draw inspiration from Western standards. “In the Middle East, I find women have such a soft strength to them. And I was like, ‘How can I bring this to [Layla]?” Well, she and the Moon Knight crew did a wonderful job at making Layla as authentic as possible!
Dena’s Alopecia in Ramy
Calamawy has spoken about her struggles with being diagnosed with alopecia areata when she was 22. Alopecia is an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss. May Calamawy struggled with her insecurities regarding the condition, but it was included in her character’s storyline in the second season of Ramy.
The actress values people making connections with her struggles. Her honesty about her alopecia is bound to speak inspiration to so many little girls. Therefore, we can’t wait to see more of her and Egyptian women in our media!
She’s our Egyptian Superhero!
Calamawy is our first Egyptian superhero! They chose her for the role just days after her audition with Oscar Isaac. She told AwardsDaily, that she “wasn’t a love interest, or someone there to be saved,” but instead had her own story to tell.
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Mohamed Diab, Moon Knight Egyptian director, has said that they
“thought of some of the greatest Egyptian actresses around and one of them was May.”
She cares about making sure Arabs have the chance to see themselves properly represented in their media. She told Elle, “I felt seen. So many of us love Hollywood films and shows, but we aren’t always represented”. We felt seen too!
Egyptian Curly Hair!
May Calamawy is, according to her Twitter bio, a curl pusher and we love it! She’s provided us with a much-needed example of Egyptian curls in Western media. She’s also become an icon for Egyptians embracing their natural hairstyles!
Mohamed Diab told ScoopEmpire that her curls have inspired young girls to be proud of their non-eurocentric features. He recalled an experience with his then five-year-old daughter, who “always wanted to straighten her hair, and that’s because she never saw herself in animation…you don’t know how big this is, seeing someone as beautiful as Layla with her beautiful, curly hair, being a superhero, being a kick-ass character and very strong”. We love the curl empowerment!