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“Spiderman: Far From Home” Zoha Rahman on being the first hijabi in the series

Actress Zoha Rahman was born in Pakistan and moved to the UK with her family in 2012. After graduating from university with a law degree, she decided to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. Even though it’s the early stages of her career, she was able to land a role in the upcoming Spiderman: Far From Home.

Zoha made headlines when pictures of her hijabi character circulated online last summer. And her popularity rose even more after the release of the film’s trailer. We had the pleasure to interview Zoha recently and ask about her life, her career and her role in the upcoming Spider-Man.

Of course, everyone found out about the exciting new character while watching the movie trailer earlier in the year, so we had to know whether Rahman was excited to take on the role.

Her response? “Yes, absolutely! Even though I auditioned as someone not wearing a hijab, I was asked if I would be able to wear one.”

She continued with her explanation: “I was very happy to be given the opportunity to visually represent Muslim girls. I find it very frustrating that Muslim women are never really seen on the big screen. It’s almost as if we don’t exist in the real world. Cinema is supposed to be a reflection of the real world but we never see the true diversity that we see every day around us.”

“I find it very frustrating that Muslim women are never really seen on the big screen. It’s almost as if we don’t exist in the real world.”

Of course, Rahman’s catapult into fame wasn’t your usual journey. Coming from a Pakistani Muslim background, her family had their doubts about her choice to pursue such an untraditional career route. “It was difficult because they were hesitant when I told them that I wanted to start acting. But I’m quite stubborn, to be honest, and said this is what I want to do, I’m going to try and if it doesn’t work out I can do something else – it’s not a big deal.”

Rahman eased her way into acting, which helped her parents adjust to her unconventional career decision. “I was acting part-time even when I had a 9 to 5 job. It’s only now that I act full-time, and I think they’ve come to the realization that this truly is the career that I want. I had to prove myself to them and it wasn’t easy.”

We wanted to know what Rahman thought about how her faith and culture might impact her career, and her answer was exactly what you’d expect from someone who’s thought long and hard about entering the world of acting. “I truly believe that religion is very personal, and I think a lot of people confuse culture with religion. They always group the two together. For example, religion might tell you one thing but it’s not followed by people, but at the same time, culture has the ability to create habits that seem faith-based to some people.”

“It’s difficult to come to terms with the fact that some people in my community don’t take my career seriously.”

She continued, reflecting on how her career might be perceived by some in her community, “It’s difficult to come to terms with the fact that some people don’t take my career seriously.”

Her confidence shone through in every word she spoke. “I am a black sheep where I come from, in that I’m well-educated and decided to pursue acting, but I feel confident in my decision. I believe that’s all I need. I don’t think it’s open for discussion.”

Her desire for authenticity reaches beyond her words: Zoha is genuinely herself, following the beat of her own drum. She doesn’t try to meet the expectations that every person around her wants to place on her. She’s simply Zoha Rahman.

When the trailer was released, revealing her character, Rahman was shocked by the amount of buzz that erupted. “I was not really expecting any of it. It actually broke before the trailer, when some paparazzi shots came out while we were filming last summer.  People realized that there was someone in a hijab who was close to the main characters.”

Zoha is genuinely herself, following the beat of her own drum.

For Rahman, the experience working on a Marvel film set was no small footnote. “It was incredible. Marvel films have everything: humor, romance, amazing locations, stunts, and visual effects.” It was obvious that this wouldn’t be an experience that Rahman would forget anytime soon. “To be able to get a taste of everything was amazing. I think I really grew after being on that set and learned so much from everyone around me.”

Ultimately, it’s her hope that the film industry is headed towards a more equal future, one that truly reflects the world around us. “It’s taking too long in my opinion, but there are changes, so it looks like some people are finally starting to walk the walk. Being able to star in a movie as big as Marvel and it not be shown as a negative thing for the plot is amazing. Ultimately, with the background and ethnicity that I have, I worry that I may always be a diversity check for the movies I work within.”

That is a consciousness that Rahman uses even in considering the fact that she wore a hijab for the movie. “I had a small fear in me that I might not be the right person to represent this because I don’t actually wear a hijab.” However, her fears were assuaged by the positive response she received online: “People were DM’ing me on Instagram and telling me how proud they were to see someone like them on screen.”

Spider-Man: Far From Home comes out on July 5.

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

By Busra Mutlu

Busra is a Film and Media graduate. She is currently a freelance journalist and film reviewer.