WANT TO PLAY A TERRORIST? Actors Face a Dilemma

Jamie Harding, a British Muslim, feared his first Hollywood feature film would be his last. He played Ahmed al-Nami, one of four Sept. 11 hijackers in “United 93,” a 2006 docudrama about the passenger revolt aboard the doomed airliner.

“A lot of people were saying, ‘Why would you ever want to play one of the four most hated people in the world?’, and to some extent, you wonder if that’s going to be a career breaker,” says the 27-year-old, whose mother is Sudanese and father is British. Until “United 93,” he had acted mainly in theater and some small television parts.

But his risk succeeded, and soon he will be on U.S. screens again, when the European film “O Jerusalem,” comes to American theaters next month. This time he plays the brother of the Arab protagonist in a story about the friendship between two men, one Jewish and the other Arab, as the state of Israel is being created.

Roles for Middle Easterners in movies and TV shows have multiplied since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, bringing a jump in demand for actors who can play them. The catch: They are most often the bad guys. That is a dilemma for actors worried about being stereotyped or perpetuating a negative image of Middle Easterners. At the same time, it appears an initial wave of “us-versus-them” narratives is gradually being joined by more nuanced themes.


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