Jun 10, 2009

Faran Tahir: My vote for Nemo Prequel casting

The revelation came in the first five minutes of J.J. Abrams' reboot of Star Trek: Faran Tahir should play Captain Nemo in the upcoming prequel by Disney. He fulfills all the criteria of the character, and between playing a villain in Iron Man , a hero in Star Trek, and displaying dramatic scope in Charlie Wilson's War, he has the proper balance of unknown and recognizable features the part would require. Further, to play Nemo, one must be able to play the heroic Prince Dakkar who becomes the villainous Nemo before transforming into the repentant and humanitarian Mystery of the Island. Most importantly to this Steampunk Scholar, he has a Pakistani heritage.

Someone might ask what the difference would be between having Will Smith (rumored to be director McG's pick for the role) or Tahir play the role, given they can visually represent groups which were both subject to colonial oppression and violence in the nineteenth century. Why can't a black man play this role?

Firstly, I wouldn't say a black man can't play Nemo. However, at this point in American film, blacks are higher up on the PC food chain than people who are, as my Pakistani, Indian and Lebanese acquaintances put it, brown. Brown actors aren't getting the big roles, with the exception of last year's Slumdog Millionaire. They're still playing bit roles or villains. So this isn't about barring a black man from playing a white character--even though Nemo has been played predominantly by caucasians.

Secondly, the position of blacks in the nineteenth century, even in Africa, was not one equalling the privileges of citizens of the British Raj. The Indian Prince Dakkar could go to school in Europe. An African Prince Dakeem would be far less likely to have done so. Which means, by extension, he wouldn't have had exposure to the education necessary to build the Nautilus. Black slaves in America were not permitted to learn to read, let alone learn advanced engineering. So the whole backstory would require a colossal re-write.

Thirdly, it's not as though the role of Nemo has been portrayed as an Indian to the point of cliché. As I argue in my forthcoming paper "Finding Nemo," the good captain has been cursed to deliver dialogue in the accent of the nation he hated most. He has been portrayed as an Indian only three times, and by an Indian only once. Maybe it's terribly Canadian of me to advocate for a Pakistani or Indian actor in the role, but it strikes me as a good way to do something new with the character, while simultaneously being very true to the source texts.

Check out this article on Tahir which discusses the forward-thinking of Abrams casting a Pakistani man as a Federation Captain in the post 9/11 world.

Now all I need is for someone to tell me how to lobby Disney in a way to get their attention.

Thanks to Matt Rhodes for the awesome photo-painting of Faran Tahir as Nemo.


  1. This is the first I've heard of this film. And I love Will Smith, but, I agree, he shouldn't play this role. Tahir would be better.

  2. I agree with everything said above, and I'll also add that Tahir has demonstrated an ability to convincingly deliver the kind of silent, stoic menace that you'd expect from Nemo. Wil Smith--while I'll not say he's incapable of it--has not made such a demonstration. The role of Nemo is not one that is friendly to a wisecracking hipster.

  3. This is also the first I've heard of this film, and I agree whole-heartedly with this post. Wonderfully sound reasoning.

  4. I vote for Tahir too! He was great in Star Trek and he's hot. Why to characters of color in literature always have to be changed in the movie version? (Case in point, "Avatar"). I don't think Will Smith is a good choice for the role. I am african american, however switching one race for another doesn't sit well with me.

  5. Tahir is hot, and he's a better actor. Will Smith is "action hero" material.

    The hierarchy you mention is white, black, then other races of MALES. Aside from white women, rarely do non-white women lead in films.

    Your African American and African history knowledge, hmm, I dunno, you sound like you pulled something out of somewhere, and made stuff up.

    If Nero has a East / Far East history you just need to state that preference, no need to imply that Africans or Africans in the diaspora were dumb enslaved beasts the world over.

  6. I don't think saying that Africans, diaspora or otherwise, were not given the same educational opportunities as Indian nobility under the British Raj is the same thing as saying they were dumb enslaved beasts. I'm simply saying that given their opportunities, it's extremely unlikely any would have exposure to the sort of education that could lead to an engineering feat like the Nautilus. Granted, it's a bit far fetched for anyone in the nineteenth century to achieve this, but I would argue moreso for Africans. This is not to say they were stupid. Just not exposed to industry in the same way other nations were. If you can state a precedent to contradict this statement GoldenAh, I'll be happy to retract my thoughts.


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