Arabs assemble: Why Moon Knight's Scarlet Scarab is a victory for the Palestinian diaspora

The cultural significance of Moon Knight's Scarlet Scarab
4 min read
24 May, 2022

In the final episode of Disney’s original Marvel series, Moon Knight, a new Egyptian superhero was born. The Scarlet Scarab is the result of Layla El-Fouly (May Calamawy) reluctantly agreeing to become the Avatar for the Egyptian goddess, Taweret, in a bid to save the world.

This new character’s transformation is not only an epic opportunity for further Egyptian representation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe but a win for Palestinians across the diaspora thanks to Calamawy’s portrayal of her.

Sporting golden wings and matching bracelets, the Scarlet Scarab may remind viewers of a certain DC superhero who donned a very similar outfit in theatres not too long ago: Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. But while the two characters may have very similar aesthetics, culturally speaking they could not be any more different – thanks to the women who play them.

"When I saw an Egyptian-Palestinian woman walk out of that temple in Moon Knight’s finale, dressed head-to-toe in superhero gear for the first time, I cried. And again when the small girl asked her, are you an Egyptian superhero?"

Many are already familiar with Gadot’s Israeli nationality, and that she served in the Israeli military when she was young.

A pro-Zionist and supporter of the IDF, Gadot has repeatedly come under fire for her statements on the violence happening in Gaza, by the Israeli military against Palestinian targets, while painting Israel as the victim and simultaneously not mentioning anything of the Palestinian civilians killed or daring to mention Palestine by name at all in any of her statements.

And though one may argue that one’s personal life should not necessarily affect your professional one, Gadot’s latest film, Wonder Woman: 1984, was panned by Middle Eastern critics for its blatant Islamophobia and racist caricature portrayals of Arabs.

Palestinian-Egyptian actress May Calamawy attends the premiere of Moon Knight [Getty Images]
Egyptian-Palestinian actress May Calamawy attends the premiere of Moon Knight [Getty Images]

There’s even an unbelievably tone-deaf scene included in the film, of Wonder Woman saving three children playing football on a beach from getting killed. 

When you learn that in 2014 four Palestinian children were killed by an IDF missile while playing on the beach in Gaza, you can see how this is an unmistakable attempt to re-write the story of Zionists killing innocent civilians, making the Zionist superhero the saviour in the end.

As a Palestinian, seeing a pro-Zionist portray one of the world’s most beloved superheroes always hurt.

Knowing that behind the character I was watching on the screen there was a woman who supported the bombings in Gaza, who was part of the military structure that carried on those bombings, and who never mentioned Palestine in any of her statements on the violence happening there… it always removed my ability to suspend my disbelief. 

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So, when I saw an Egyptian-Palestinian woman walk out of that temple in Moon Knight’s finale, dressed head-to-toe in superhero gear for the first time, I cried. And again when the small girl asked her, “are you an Egyptian superhero?”

Because even though I was watching a story taking place in Egypt, even though everything about this show is Egyptian, and not Palestinian at all, behind that hero was a woman who gave Palestinians a chance to be seen in a global blockbuster in a way we never have before.

Palestinian representation is a rare thing in Hollywood, and there are only a handful of household names that have Palestinian heritage. When it comes to something as global as Disney and Marvel, the only other names that come close to that level of fame are Bella Hadid and DJ Khalid.

Two names, two people who have the chance to be on the same level as someone like Gal Gadot, and neither of them are really in any major films or television shows.

Calamawy’s presence in a Marvel series, her character’s creation for the MCU, gives us just one more chance to be heard and counteract the pro-Zionist narrative carried on by actors like Gadot and in films like Wonder Woman: 1984.

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And though Calamawy’s Palestinian heritage is not advertised or flaunted, the fact that she is Egyptian-Palestinian is enough to hold me over.

In this industry, Palestinians have to fight to be heard, and to flaunt your Palestinian heritage is to kiss your chances of success goodbye. Speaking from experience, we face an incredible amount of racism and undue labelling as anti-Semitic for merely supporting our people, or having pride in our identity.

But when I see Calamawy climb the rungs of Hollywood’s ladder, I have a deep pride knowing that maybe one day my Palestinian identity won’t keep me from reaching that, too. 

So, yes, to some it may seem like the Scarlet Scarab is just a small superhero in a small TV show, but to Palestinians around the globe, she is a symbol of strength and power, and a visual representation of the battle we have been fighting for nearly a century: A chance to be seen.

Tariq Raouf is a Palestinian-American Muslim writer, based in Seattle. You can follow them on their journey of rediscovering their roots with their newsletter, Finding Palestine

Follow them on Twitter: @tariq_raouf