Saturday, December 3, 2011

Arsalan Iftikhar | The Muslim Guy | Editor | Human Rights Lawyer | A Muslim in Hollywood: My 15 Seconds as a Film Extra

Arsalan Iftikhar | The Muslim Guy | Editor | Human Rights Lawyer | A Muslim in Hollywood: My 15 Seconds as a Film Extra


"Along with other olive-skinned extras, I was cast for two full days in two different scenes of the movie. Our first scene, which took place at a Turkish ghetto hookah café in Munich, Germany, was filmed on a dilapidated city block in Baltimore. My role was a Turkish vagabond. Out of the nearly 20 '"Turks" cast for the scene, not a single one of us was actually Turkish. Instead, in addition to me, our '"Turkish" crew consisted of several Iranians, Arabs, Armenians, four whites, a Bosnian and a Mexican.

The second scene, an executive airport lounge at Amman International Airport in Jordan, was filmed at a private hangar at Dulles International Airport in suburban Washington, D.C. At the other end of the stereotypical casting spectrum, my role on the second day of filming was of a jet-setting young Saudi billionaire in an upscale executive airport lounge at Amman airport.

The people in wardrobe today had me sporting a power DKNY suit along with the signature pink tie and appropriate billionaire "bling," a far cry from my Turkish vagabond costume of the day before.

In the Amman airport-terminal scene, there were about 10 other "Arab" people, including two prototypical Saudi "sheikhs" (one played by a very nice white-haired Italian gentleman named Gus) and several burqa-clad "Arab Muslim" women (all of different olive-skinned ethnicities, from Filipinas to Latinas, some of whom popped into their Arab dresses from their miniskirts in the costume tent).

All of the people in the film crew were incredibly nice and many had traveled extensively to the Middle East to make sure details such as the women's hijabs, or head coverings, were authentic. For many of them, it had been their first trip to the Muslim world and they all remarked how much they loved the Middle East and how the people were so different from the negative portrayals often seen in Western media.

During the airport scene, one of the production assistants even asked me whether a Paris Hilton--type purse dog would be acceptable inside an airport lounge in a Muslim country, in an effort to avoid offending Muslim sensibilities. The meticulous attention to detail by Academy Award--nominated film director Sir Ridley Scott was another surprise.

Finally, after two grueling 11-hour days of work, my Hollywood experiment was over. Alas, the final product will be a two-second blip on the big screen as a Turkish vagabond or a jet-setting young Saudi billionaire. On the other hand, I might end up on Warner Brothers' cutting-room floor."