Although Oscar Isaac has yet to be officially confirmed as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Moon Knight (though it’s pretty clear at this point that he will indeed be donning the antihero’s iconic mantle), the series is moving full steam ahead with a production start date already set for March, and has now begun casting other key supporting roles. May Calamawy has become only the second cast member to join the series, playing an as yet unnamed character who will join the Moon Knight on what Marvel president Kevin Feige described as a globe-trotting, “Indiana Jones-type” adventure.
Calamawy, a Bahraini actress with Egyptian heritage, has risen to stardom through her popular role on Hulu’s Ramy, where she portrays Ramy Youssef’s younger sister, Dena Hassan, and has helped to break barriers for MENA (Middle Eastern and North African) representation in TV. She will have a chance to do so again in the Moon Knight series, where she is likely filling the role of Marlene Alraune: an important figure in Moon Knight’s backstory. A casting call that MCU Direct was able to reveal back in September of last year suggested that Marvel was searching for actresses of any ethnicity, and in the same age-range as Calamawy, to play a character believed to be Marlene.
At the time, Marvel provided only a few details about the character, including that she would be “a manipulative operative working for a secret organization”, possibly hinting at a connection to the MCU’s S.H.I.E.L.D., or even S.W.O.R.D., which is being set up to have a major role going forward: S.W.O.R.D. agents will be tasked with trying to restrain Wanda Maximoff in WandaVision, and will likely show up again in the Secret Invasion series. In the comics, Marlene’s character has never had ties to either of these organizations, but then again, she’s also been little more than a rip-off of Marion Ravenwood from the Indiana Jones franchise – so I don’t mind if her backstory gets rewritten to better suit the modern setting.
Marlene in the comics is a stereotypical “archaeologist’s daughter” (not to be confused with the very similar “scientist’s daughter”), and is most often utilized as a love interest to Marc Spector, a.k.a. Moon Knight. While accompanying her aging father on his final research trip to Egypt, she accidentally becomes embroiled in a fight between Spector and his nemesis, The Bushman, who kills her father and attempts to kill her too but is stopped by Spector: who is left mortally wounded in the attack. Spector is then revived by the ancient Egyptian moon deity Khonshu, and given a second chance at life in exchange for his services as an assassin and mercenary, carrying out the god’s dirty work on earth. Marlene accompanies Marc Spector occasionally on his crime-fighting missions, and has some fighting skills of her own that she’s able to put to good use, but most comic readers still only know her as Spector’s on-and-off girlfriend, who at one point leaves him for her ex-husband and then reunites with him later. The MCU has never been great at creating truly messy romantic drama, but WandaVision seems like it might finally reflect a widescale shift towards writing more complex romantic relationships – so I guess we’ll have to see what happens.
But regardless, this is still very exciting casting, and bodes well for Calamawy’s career beyond Ramy. I hope that we’ll soon see other MENA actors join Moon Knight in significant roles, making up for the MCU’s earlier, dated, and deeply offensive portrayals of Middle Eastern characters as terrorists. This stereotype continues to be perpetuated in mainstream media – just last month, Wonder Woman 1984 tried to get away with it too: in what may have been an ill-conceived and tasteless attempt to pass it off as just another hallmark of the 1980’s films upon which the DC sequel was based, like troubling depictions of women, dubious consent issues, and queerbaiting.
So what do you think about Calamawy’s casting, and how excited are you for Moon Knight? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!