Middle East and North African (MENA) and Muslim people have had scant options when it comes to the superhero genre or comic book adaptations generally. Arab and Persian people in particular have most often been vilified in popular media through the decades. But this is thankfully starting to change, such as with the Tarazi siblings on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow for Persian people, but perhaps now for Arab people with the news from Deadline that Netflix is developing a Grendel series, based on Matt Wagner’s comic series of the same name, and has cast The CW’s Katy Keene star and Abubakr Ali in the starring role!
As Deadline reports, he is the first Arab Muslim male actor to portray a series lead in a comic book adaptation.
Andrew Dabb (Supernatural, Resident Evil) is the showrunner and executive producer for the series and is part of Netflix’s first-look deal with Dark Horse Entertainment. The show follows Hunter Rose (Ali), a gifted fencer, writer, and assassin, who seeks to avenge the death of a loved one. In his pursuit, he goes to war with New York’s criminal underworld, only to find out he might have more to gain from joining them.
We at The Nerds of Color extend our heartiest congratulations to Abubakr! And of course, we hope for many more MENA people from across the region and diaspora to get cast in these and all other projects. I admit I didn’t before know the character of Grendel. I found out he’s certainly not a “hero” in the traditional sense, but rather a criminal mastermind. Initially, my excitement paused. Would this series portray him as villainous, and add to the vilification of Arab people? But the more research I did, I realized the character is more of an intriguing anti-hero with a long legacy. I hope that the series does well to show the range of personality that Ali can bring in the role, and show a nuanced, compelling, and sympathetic portrayal of a character played by an Arab Muslim, even if he’s not entirely heroic at first, and further pave the way for more Arab and MENA people in superhero and comic book adaptations.
Joining Ali are Jaime Ray Newman (Dopesick, The Time Traveler’s Wife), Julian Black Antelope (The Flash, Debris), Madeline Zima (Californication, Hacks), Kevin Corrigan (Scenes from an Empty Church, The Get Down), Emma Ho (Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, The Expanse), Erik Palladino (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Watchmen), Brittany Allen (What Keeps You Alive), and Andy Mientus (The Flash, Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings).
Grendel creator Wagner shared the following statement with Deadline: “I couldn’t be more thrilled about the Grendel saga, one of the longest-running independent comics series, finally being translated into live-action for the screen. Under the sharp guidance of showrunner Andrew Dabb, our incredible creative team, sure-to-be stellar cast and Dark Horse Entertainment have teamed with Netflix to produce this provocative adaptation that will bring my characters and concepts to an all new audience and yet still provide excitement and surprises for die-hard fans. I’m especially excited to see Abubakr Ali bring the character of Grendel/Hunter Rose to life — he has the charisma, style and vital edginess that I’ve been envisioning in the role for years.”