News

Ramy Youssef on Working with Mahershala Ali To Portray an 'Earnest' Muslim Experience

The creator and star of Hulu hit series Ramy reveals how the Oscar-winner came to appear in season 2 and the challenges of bringing his life and faith to television.

by | May 27, 2020 | Comments

Ramy Youssef is on the come-up. The 29-year-old burst onto the scene in 2019 with his semi-autobiographical series, Ramy — the first season of which is Certified Fresh at 97% on the Tomatometer. The story follows Ramy Hassan (played by Youssef), an Egyptian man struggling to find his identity as he straddles a line between religious traditions and cultural expectations and the promise of the millennial American dream.

With season 2 right around the corner and the addition of Academy Award and Emmy-winner Mahershala Ali to the cast, it’s clear to Youssef that this little show of his is about to get a lot more eyes on it. Which is all a part of Youssef’s plan.

Since Ramy premiered to Hulu, Youssef signed an overall development deal with A24, shot a stand-up comedy special for HBO, and won the Golden Globe Award for lead performance in a comedy (beating heavy-hitters like Michael Douglas and Bill Hader).


Mahershala Ali and Ramy Youssef in season 2 of Ramy

(Photo by Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu)

“The show was almost like putting out a bat signal like, ‘Hey, who’s around?'” Ramy told Rotten Tomatoes. “[Mahershala] saw it and called me and was just like, ‘It’s so cool to see a practicing Muslim in Hollywood. I’ve been one for like 20 years, and I’ve never seen anything that even comes close to showing it in an earnest way.'”

For decades, Hollywood has regularly perpetuated a Muslim stereotype rooted in fear. As much as audiences flocked to the terrorist battles of 24’s Jack Bauer or Homeland’s Carrie Mathison, there wasn’t much room for human stories from the highly misunderstood culture to take shape. With Ramy, Youssef wanted to humanize things, by, as he puts it, “not just wanting to separate yourself from the faith or not just making fun of it, but kind of really focusing on the struggle in a genuine way.”

According to Youssef, it didn’t take much convincing to get the Moonlight alum to join the show: “It kind of turned into being like, ‘Let me know if you need anything.’ And then I was like, ‘Well, do you want to be in it?’ And he was like, ‘Sure, I’ll do an episode or two.’ And then that kind of quickly became most of the season.”



In the first season, we were introduced to a Ramy who was very much yearning to step into his higher self, while continually being pulled into the trappings and desires of his lower one. In the finale, our hero journeyed to Egypt, looking to connect with his cultural roots. But as the saying goes, “one step forward, two steps back.” Just as he thought he was on the right path, a death in the family knocked Ramy off track and he ended up making a terrible decision: He fell in love with his cousin, and then he had sex with her.

As you’d expect, the fallout of this choice puts Ramy right back into his funk. When Ali’s Sheikh enters his life, he brings a sense of guidance that will hopefully put Ramy back on the righteous path. “I think a character like Sheikh Ali is an embodiment of that and I really wanted that for the show,” Youssef says. “I think we have a lot of people struggling with that and I really wanted to show somebody who was transformed by the faith. Transformation is really what Ramy is looking for.”


Ramy Youssef in Ramy episode 109

(Photo by Hasan Amin/Hulu)

Youssef’s quick to point out the many types of Muslims that exist throughout the world: African, South Asian, and Middle Eastern, to name a few. According to Youssef, having Ali stepping into the role of the Sufi Sheikh was “a very American thing.”

“Historically, Black people have been the first Muslims in this country; the first big Muslim presence and, kind of, have the longest link here,” he said. “And so it’s interesting to have that here when you have, within other Muslim communities like Arab ones or South Asian ones, a lot of anti-Blackness. It was just this idea that someone like him would be carrying what Ramy wanted. It felt like something I was really excited to have for our audience.”

Demystifying the general public’s perception of Muslims in America is a big goal to achieve, and Youssef’s quick to admit he’s not trying to create a public service announcement with his series. However, as the show continues to explore the world through his experiences, and that of the members of his family, he’s hoping the story will continue to connect on a human level with viewers, no matter their race, religion, or gender.


Hiam Abbass, May Calamawy, and Amr Waked in Ramy episode 208

(Photo by Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu)

“We try not to take sides or positions, and more-so just complicate the conversation, because I think it’s really hard for a comedy to be instructive or a comedy to be, you know, kind of telling people what to think or what’s right,” he says. “Rounding out conversations that sometimes are a little too one dimensional, that really is the goal of the show.”

As for authenticity, Youssef wants to remind viewers that he’s just one type of Muslim and while his show is working to represent the culture and religion as a whole, this story is specific to his experience.

“I think audiences are kind of in an unfair situation because there’s so little content that speaks to anything even close to what they’re going through,” he says. “So I think a show like mine has a lot of, you know, expectations on it. But that really comes out of scarcity, as opposed to entertainment value. I’m very sympathetic to that. And so all I hope is that people can really see the humanity in these characters, see the conversations that we’re trying to complicate, and that we kind of bring some more depth to things. Hopefully.”

Ramy season 2 premieres on Hulu on Friday, May 29, 2020. 

Ramy (2019)
98%

#1
Synopsis: Ramy Hassan is a first generation Egyptian-American who is on a spiritual journey in his politically-divided New Jersey neighborhood. RAMY... [More]

Tag Cloud

2019 BBC America PBS Ellie Kemper Disney Plus video on demand 71st Emmy Awards Disney+ Disney Plus Pride Month teaser spy thriller Country Hulu nfl SDCC stop motion 21st Century Fox President Adult Swim critics boxing Fantasy richard e. Grant 20th Century Fox tv talk Quiz asian-american Rom-Com Lucasfilm CNN Christmas archives canceled TV shows Interview reviews Countdown Mindy Kaling Anna Paquin talk show Grammys Reality Competition concert reboot Exclusive Video Box Office science fiction FX on Hulu Winter TV historical drama scorecard The Walking Dead finale Esquire Emmy Nominations SXSW Comedy Lionsgate hispanic Showtime transformers mockumentary Apple 24 frames Red Carpet Film docudrama 72 Emmy Awards cats Kids & Family children's TV movie laika telelvision sitcom Awards Tour Heroines WGN Fox News technology Disney streaming service Marvel kong Nat Geo VH1 Starz Black History Month Universal game of thrones parents toy story dceu black cops Sundance Now Marvel Television Amazon Prime Video crime thriller worst movies Disney First Look Star Trek godzilla jurassic park Sneak Peek Sundance zombie First Reviews cancelled Comedy Central TNT zombies documentaries singing competition Spectrum Originals Biopics Superheroes theme song 2021 comedies nature Pop TCM french Pop TV IFC Tumblr golden globe awards Polls and Games 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards fresh Set visit movies Pirates Music Britbox MSNBC Thanksgiving Television Critics Association superman Star Wars Columbia Pictures PaleyFest elevated horror ABC Signature See It Skip It thriller Superheroe adventure franchise Awards Super Bowl Walt Disney Pictures PlayStation razzies WarnerMedia blockbuster ITV LGBTQ strong female leads ratings animated Classic Film TV Land Musicals harry potter screenings cinemax GLAAD Women's History Month Endgame Mystery spain rotten movies we love twilight GoT robots ID directors supernatural book dc adaptation Action SundanceTV social media TCA rt archives Travel Channel FXX Hallmark Binge Guide Year in Review New York Comic Con stoner sequel CBS what to watch Shudder Toys crime drama breaking bad BET Awards Academy Awards travel true crime 2020 blaxploitation Tomatazos Emmys cars films Tubi streaming christmas movies Netflix Christmas movies Creative Arts Emmys sag awards TCA 2017 DC Universe TV One CW Seed Lifetime 2015 cooking Broadway Podcast Lifetime Christmas movies cancelled television The Arrangement doctor who Vudu Song of Ice and Fire American Society of Cinematographers YA A24 RT History all-time green book ghosts spanish language Comic Book Fox Searchlight Rock Syfy The Walt Disney Company Fall TV Black Mirror Spring TV vampires BET festival Sundance TV comic books space james bond medical drama Video Games USA Nickelodeon spinoff deadpool name the review Comics on TV popular 007 Paramount natural history Mary Tyler Moore superhero 99% monster movies Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt anthology cartoon police drama remakes festivals DGA Netflix ESPN psychological thriller AMC A&E Trivia APB TIFF Pixar independent TV hist The Purge Valentine's Day Cartoon Network anime Pet Sematary boxoffice Winners FX Acorn TV Film Festival VOD romance VICE Premiere Dates Nominations screen actors guild Ghostbusters Hear Us Out crime NYCC Funimation news RT21 Character Guide cults game show YouTube Premium comiccon Alien Teen TruTV criterion Hallmark Christmas movies Musical Calendar prank TCA Winter 2020 Masterpiece aliens Dark Horse Comics Trailer king kong golden globes crossover FOX period drama pirates of the caribbean chucky series blockbusters Turner dramedy latino free movies Captain marvel Rocketman halloween cancelled TV shows miniseries a nightmare on elm street award winner casting MCU versus australia Drama composers Warner Bros. DirecTV psycho Paramount Plus Stephen King GIFs fast and furious documentary emmy awards best cancelled TV series BBC Chernobyl IFC Films foreign Animation Crackle Horror Apple TV Plus Watching Series kaiju Martial Arts X-Men Epix Apple TV+ Disney Channel HBO Max political drama National Geographic ViacomCBS sports worst HBO Cosplay revenge Baby Yoda Certified Fresh Marvel Studios YouTube Red CBS All Access Opinion sequels Chilling Adventures of Sabrina ABC ABC Family HBO Go Sony Pictures Amazon Prime Mary poppins Mary Poppins Returns japanese facebook TBS Spike Sci-Fi Turner Classic Movies The CW Trophy Talk Amazon Studios Rocky DC streaming service child's play canceled comic Bravo Avengers batman jamie lee curtis Infographic BAFTA Holidays slashers E! based on movie OneApp Arrowverse 2018 Ovation YouTube NBC witnail Marathons Photos italian women politics Tarantino MTV Oscars south america die hard Discovery Channel Reality The Witch hidden camera The Academy E3 werewolf zero dark thirty dragons Extras Logo Summer Western stand-up comedy spanish mission: impossible biography 2017 Best and Worst OWN Food Network Paramount Network quibi 2016 video spider-man Freeform USA Network obituary war BBC One unscripted serial killer classics Amazon toronto scary movies comics diversity rom-coms universal monsters DC Comics Writers Guild of America San Diego Comic-Con Schedule Family trailers kids LGBT TV renewals halloween tv rotten justice league hollywood TLC indie dogs Television Academy Cannes television 4/20 Peacock Crunchyroll Brie Larson Mudbound Election football Shondaland indiana jones docuseries binge discovery disaster Holiday History satire mutant CMT nbcuniversal venice Legendary dark renewed TV shows joker El Rey romantic comedy 45 TCA Awards Elton John