When Zoha Rahman first saw Sony’s Spider-Man: Homecoming in theaters two years ago, one scene really caught her eye: a Muslim student wearing a hijab in the background of Peter Parker’s math class.
“I thought about it for days after that,” said Rahman, according to Forbes. “I was like— I’ve never seen that before.”
The Pakistani British actress was so excited to see a Muslim being depicted as a normal American living daily life, a huge step forward for Muslim representation in her eyes.
In the newly released Spider-Man: Far From Home, Zoha Rahman plays Peter Parker’s classmate joining him on a field trip through Europe, and she’s not just an extra, making her the first hijab-wearing character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“I didn’t actually know what I was auditioning for until I was in the audition room,” said Rahman. When she got the call for the part, she was in shock.
“Oh my gosh,” she thought. “I’m going to be in a Marvel movie.”
However, it wasn’t until a second call from production that the team asked Rahman if she would be willing to wear a hijab for the role. She said she immediately tied on her mother’s scarf and sent pictures back to them.
“It meant so much to me, for me to have the opportunity to play a character and represent so many girls that I know personally and that I love and admire.”
During her fourth day on set, Rahman noticed that one of the film’s security guards wore a hijab. The guard saw Rahman in costume and approached her to ask if she was in the film. After Rahman explained her role, the woman threw out her arms to embrace her.
“She just hugged me so tight. This woman I’ve never met before,” Rahman recalled. “And she was like, ‘I’m so proud of you.'”
The Muslim woman explained how much it meant to her to see Rahman on set, saying that both she and her young daughters would be eager to watch the film once it was out.
Rahman returned to her trailer after the encounter and broke into tears, finally feeling the impact of her work.
“This [role] is a dream come true for me as much as it is for the girls around me,” Rahman told Teen Vogue. “I grew up without seeing someone like myself onscreen. And when I did start seeing representations in mainstream media, they were irresponsible and poor. Muslims and Pakistanis are often offered one of two portrayals; oppressed or violent.
“I treated my role as a huge responsibility. I am Muslim, but I do not wear the hijab on a daily basis. I wanted to do it justice. It is not a hat or a costume, and I was determined to give it the respect it deserves. To hear from young girls and women who wear the hijab out there pushing me and telling me they are proud of me, it’s a feeling I truly can’t describe.”
However, she knows there’s still a lot of work left to do. Rahman said she is in the process of writing her own superhero film in which she can star as a South Asian Muslim hero.
“We shouldn’t be this excited about something that I’m doing because this should have happened a very long time ago,” she explained. “Everybody knows someone [who wears the hijab] in their real life. So why aren’t we seeing those characters on screen?”
Spider-Man: Far From Home is now in theaters.
AsAmNews has Asian America in its heart. We’re an all-volunteer effort of dedicated staff and interns. Check out our Twitter feed and Facebook page for more content. Please consider interning, joining our staff or submitting a story.