In Hollywood, actors of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent are often typecast as the villains, particularly with the recent onslaught of films and television shows centering on terrorism. What is refreshing therefore, is the casting of Pakistani actor Faran Tahir as Captain Robau in the recent box office hit Star Trek. Tahir has a string of film and television credits under his belt, from Iron Man and Charlie Wilson’s War to 24 and Sleeper Cell. However, as IMDB indicates, Tahir has largely played the villain on film and television.
That is, until JJ Abrams‘ Star Trek. Captain Robau is the captain of the Kelvin, the starship on which James T. Kirk‘s father, George Kirk is first officer. For those who are familiar with the Star Trek franchise, past captains were often portrayed as weak in order to bolster perceptions of Captains Kirk and Picard. In this film, however, Tahir plays Robau as a heroic and strong leader. In an interview with TrekMovie.com, the film’s co-writer and executive producer Roberto Orci noted, “Being a captain in Starfleet should be a special position and we don’t feel that another captain has to be diminished in order to elevate Captain Kirk. If you are a captain in Starfleet you are a cool mother f—er.”
Trekmovie.com added, “The fact that Tahir is Pakistani also cannot be ignored…Like the Germans and Russians of past generations, many of today’s popular culture villains are played by those of Middle-Eastern or South-west Asian descent. But just like Gene Roddenberry put a Russian onto the bridge of the Enterprise in the height of the Cold War, JJ Abrams has put a Pakistani into the captain’s chair in the post-9/11 world.” The casting is a throwback to Star Trek’s history of “color-blind” roles and is reminiscent of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a future where every person lives up to his or her fullest potential, regardless of race or ethnicity. Tahir, in an interview with SciFi Wire, said, “The biggest compliment is that he [director Abrams] was looking for a certain quality. He could have found that in me, he could have found that in [anyone else]. And it just happened to be me, and … the added … layer to that is that, yeah, I happen to be of a certain descent, and … the casting was [in] the spirit of what Star Trek is about.”
The fact that a Pakistani actor has “made it” in Hollywood is a positive development in of itself, regardless of what roles he gets to play. However, the casting of Tahir as a starship captain is a definite added plus, particularly given the stereotyping and perceptions of Muslims in the West, as well as the typecasting that has always been prevalent in Hollywood. Below is Tahir’s interview with TV Guide about the film [thanks Pro-Pakistan]: