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History was made when the Academy of Motion Pictures and Arts announced the 2019 Best Actor Award winner was Egyptian-American Rami Malek for his role in “Bohemian Rhapsody”–the first Coptic-Egyptian to receive an Oscar.
“I am the son of immigrants from Egypt, a first-generation American,” said Malek, he continued, “And part of my story is being written right now. And I could not be more grateful to each and every one of you, and everyone who believed in me for this moment. It’s something I will treasure for the rest of my life.”
Malek also paid tribute to his parents, saying of his Egyptian mother, who was in the theatre “I love you, lady” and expressing the belief his father was “looking down on me right now.”
Photo: Malek with his mother celebrating his win
Although Malek was the first Egyptian-Coptic to receive an Oscar for Best Actor, he wasn’t the first Arab American to receive this distinction. In 1985, F. Murray Abraham won the Oscar as Best Actor for his leading role as Antonio Salieri in the drama film Amadeus. Abraham is of Syrian heritage, his father was Assyrian and emigrated from Syria, in fact, his paternal grandfather was a chanter in the Syriac Orthodox Church.
Raised in Los Angeles as a child of Egyptian (Coptic) parents, Malek absorbed his parents love of such Egyptian heroes as Umm al-Kulthum and Omar Sharif. He speaks Arabic. His Egyptian roots have influenced his devotion to the idea of diversity, both in Hollywood and in America generally.
In 2016, speaking at the 68th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards in 2016, where he won Best Actor in a Drama Series, Malek spoke about diversity. “For me to stand here as not the typical leading man and to come home with this speaks a lot about where we’re headed,” Rami said in his backstage interview. “I think we can just keep going further in that direction. It’s not just limited to entertainment, but socially and politically… we continue and strive to be as progressive as possible.”
Malek’s Egyptian immigrant parents worked to give him and his siblings the careers they have today. The Malek family comes from the ancient Coptic Christian minority of Egypt. Rami’s father was a tour guide in Cairo before moving his family to California for better work opportunities.