‘Ramy’: an intelligent interrogation of polarisation and post-immigration living

Credit: HULU

Golden-Globe winning, Emmy-nominated comedy drama `Ramy’ has landed on Channel 4, making the Hulu series accessible to an even larger audience, and – dare I say – it’s one of the best things to come out of 2021 so far.

‘Ramy’ follows 27 year old Ramy Hassan as he navigates life as an Egyptian-American in New Jersey. Each episode sees Ramy grapple with the polarising stereotypes and binaries that beset him and his community of American Muslims. He tries to date someone who shares his values, but comes out the other side questioning what exactly those values are. He prides himself on a drug and alcohol-free life, only to find himself high and alone in a Mosque, struggling to connect with his ‘best self’ through prayer. Attempting to observe Ramadan, he ends up in bed with a married woman. Ramy is riddled with contradictions. His actions don’t conform to one single stereotype or societal paradigm; he is a fluctuating, unpredictable human being. But he is trying; constantly striving to be the very best version of himself. What that looks like exactly is the question.

Credit: Barbara Nitke, HULU

The series is a playful soul-searching journey through Ramy’s late twenties as he struggles to find himself through work, relationships and religion, but don’t let that playfulness fool you. At its core ‘Ramy’ is a deeply poignant commentary on what it means to be caught between cultures. Created by and starring Ramy Youssef as Ramy, the series is inspired by his own experience of an existence that is so often characterised by a desire to fit in, to mould and shape oneself into something that resembles certainty and clarity. The result is a life that often sits within an uncomfortable grey zone, in a world obsessed with labels and binaries.

Youssef presents characters which at first seem to conform to stereotypes, only to strip them back and play with viewers’ own prejudices and preconceptions of what life as a first or second-generation immigrant really looks and feels like. Not only does he do that with sharpness and nuance, but Youssef also explores what it means to be an Egyptian Muslim living in the Western world – not an Arab, not someone from Middle East, but an Egyptian.

Credit: HULU

As a British-Egyptian female, born and bred in Manchester but with familial roots deep in Cairo, this is the show I wished existed during my most formative younger years. I am fiercely proud of my heritage, but that wasn’t always the case; growing up, I used to try and hide it. I would tell my school friends that I spent my summers in Spain, rather than Cairo, and that they could ‘just call me Amy’, even though my name is Malak. I cringed when people struggled to pronounce my ‘foreign’ name, and gradually came to accept the fact that people choose to avoid what they don’t understand. I combatted this by introducing myself as ‘Mal’, something more familiar and easier to assimilate.

At 26, this is the first time I have truly seen myself reflected on screen. Me, with my Egyptian family but my Western upbringing, torn between two cultures, both equally a part of who I am. In ‘Ramy’, I finally see my Egyptian heritage with all its nuances given the non-stereotypical treatment it deserves. Ramy’s family eat koshari and watch Egyptian mosalsalat (dramas) during Ramadan. Some days they go to Mosque, some days they don’t. One of Ramy’s friends drinks alcohol at a party, whilst the other escapes to a room to pray. All of these behaviours ring true to my own experiences, but none conform to societal paradigms of racial and religious archetypes. Because life, true life, rarely does.

‘Ramy’ has been pegged as a ‘Muslim sitcom’, but it’s so much more than that. It offers a sharp perspective on the human condition and the universal struggle to be your ‘best self’, with all the messiness and uncertainty that brings. I am still struggling to find my version of what that means for me, but I am getting there. I, like Ramy, am a work-in-progress.

‘Ramy’ is currently streaming on All 4 in the UK and STARZPLAY.