Sam Esmail and Rami Malek are something of a dream team. On Mr. Robot, Esmail’s direction captures Malek’s subtle acting, while Malek’s performance electrifies Esmail’s writing. Together, they exponentially elevate each other’s work.
That’s why it makes perfect sense that the Mr. Robot duo will reteam for Esmail’s next film, American Radical. Deadline reports that Esmail will direct, and Malek will star. A writer has yet to be chosen.
This project confirms that Esmail has found somewhat of a muse in Malek. The director-muse partnership is as old as film itself (e.g. Fincher, Pitt; Lynch, Dern; Nolan, Murphy), and filmmakers often pair up repeatedly with the same actors once they’ve established mutual creative connection. We can only hope this will be the second of many collaborations between Esmail and Malek.
American Radical will be based on the 2017 memoir “American Radical: Inside the World of an Undercover Muslim FBI Agent.” Written by Tamer Elnoury and Kevin Maurer, the New York Times bestselling book tells the story of a Muslim American FBI agent who goes undercover to fight terrorism from the inside.
Elnoury’s story is natural thriller material. A longtime undercover agent, he joined the elite counterterrorism unit of the FBI shortly after 9/11. In his time undercover, he infiltrated and brought down a US-based terror cell. Elnourey — who writes under a psudonym due to his ongoing involvement with the FBI — has all the makings of a classic cinematic spy.
Most importantly, “American Radical” paints a portrait of a heroic patriot who is also an Arabic-speaking Muslim American immigrant. That’s why Esmail is the perfect filmmaker to tell this story.
Sam Esmail was born in Hoboken, New Jersey to an Egyptian Muslim family. He understands firsthand the perils of Islamophobia and xenophobia in America. “I’m Egyptian, and my parents stupidly decided to move us down to South Carolina when I was five, which was pretty brutal,” he told Rolling Stone in July of 2016. “I got called ‘sand-n***er’ all the time — to the point I didn’t even know it was a slur. I just thought, ‘That’s who I am.'”
Tamer Elnoury was born in Egypt and immigrated to the US when he was five years old. Like many immigrants and Muslims, bigotry reshaped his existence in America after September 11. “I am a Muslim and I am an American, and I am appalled at what [Islamic terrorists] are doing to my country while desecrating my religion,” he told BBC News in October of 2017. Elnoury stepped up to protect America even when his fellow Americans weren’t too keen about protecting him. It’s a complex, bittersweet story — and one that desperately needs telling.
The insight and experience Esmail brings to American Radical as an Egyptian American from a Muslim family will make a hugely positive impact on how the story is told. Malek, who is also Egyptian American, will also portray Elnoury with authenticity and humanity. (We definitely don’t need another whitewashing situation a la Prince of Persia or Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.)
It’s not just important that we have more movies that realistically portray Muslim and Arab Americans; it’s crucial that these stories are told by members of those communities. This is especially urgent because most depictions of Islam or the Middle East are filtered through white directorial lenses (e.g. American Sniper, Homeland, The Kingdom).
We’re not only excited to see Esmail and Malek pair up again, but also to see the story of an Egyptian American brought to life by two Egyptian Americans. Of course, Esmail is also a perfect choice because he’s a master of tension, suspense, and misdirection — essential components of any great spy thriller. On Mr. Robot, he manipulates that narrative and engineers every frame for a maximally thrilling impact. With the empathy and skill Esmail will bring to the project, American Radical will surely be a must-see.