Monna Sabouri: Acting for Change

Monna Sabouri is a successful member of the movie and television industry, with roles in “Royal Pains,” “Gotham,” and “The Americans,” but her identity will always be more important to her than fame. While keeping her career in the Hollywood industry, she’s working on becoming a lawyer to bring about change for the Muslim community. In her story she shares why this is her passion and why others should follow her footsteps.

I often get asked the question: “So, where do you work?” to which I take a deep breath and say “Well, currently I’m an actor, but I’m not too happy with the roles I have been auditioning for, so I decided to also become a writer to change Hollywood’s narrative. But then I realized even if I were to change the Hollywood narrative it still won’t really help combat the bigotry and surveillance that affect the community. So now I’m studying for the LSAT in between my auditions to hopefully become a lawyer. Oh, and I also work as a production assistant.” My life is one big creative mess, and that’s okay, because life is meant to be messy.

I had a plan for everything: what college I would go to, what my major would be, where I would work. But I realized that life does not always go as planned. When you get to college, it’s okay to switch majors (I did it three times). It’s okay to explore which career path you want. When something doesn’t work out, that’s okay as well. Sometimes when you focus too far ahead, you miss the shiny opportunity out the corner of your eye. That’s what happened with my acting career. I never anticipated being an actor until my professor said I should do it professionally.

It is frustrating being a Muslim American actor. I first started the business as any hopeful actor, excited to see what characters I will be reading for and hopefully playing. There is a growth in diversity in the film industry, particularly in television. However, the growth in the depiction of Muslims in television has not always been positive. Some of these characters feed to the rise of prejudices, and others contribute to the Muslim stereotype. How do I combat this? I turn down auditions for these characters and stand my ground.

My identity as a Muslim American is super important. It shapes who I am as an individual and is my moral compass as I navigate my way through life. It gives me strength to know that my connection with God is unbreakable. It makes me fearless. This fearless attitude also comes from my grandmother, who always reminds me stand my ground. “If you’re not comfortable with something, speak out” she would say in Farsi. And this statement is relevant for the community today. We should all speak out when there is injustice. If you find out a bill is up for votes in Congress that you don’t agree with, call your representative and express your dislike. If you don’t like your elected officials, vote them out of office. We have so much power in this country. We as individuals have the power to change situations for the better.

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