We sat down with Disney’s Aladdin star, Mena Massoud to share his newcomer journey in Canada as an Egyptian immigrant. As an actor, Mena opens up about his career path into acting, discusses the importance of representation in the entertainment industry, and shares his inspiration behind the Ethnically Diverse Artists Foundation.
What was your experience like as a newcomer in Canada?
Overall, Canada, and more specifically Toronto, was an incredible place to grow up. The best. But like any immigrant experience there are major adjustments and challenges you face. Especially after 9/11. As an Egyptian, the narrative around my culture, home life, and traditions completely changed from those around me. My community started looking at me differently. And that was tough. But like I said, Canada being such an eclectic place, that celebrates so many cultures, made overcoming those challenging experiences easier.
“The importance of representation isn’t up for debate – it’s paramount.
What made you pursue acting as a career?
I always wanted to act since I could remember. But my parents left their whole life in Egypt to give their kids a better, easier life. And acting isn’t exactly easy or guaranteed. It’s far from it. So, I went to the University of Toronto to study Neuroscience and I was going to become a doctor. But I was sitting in Calculus class one day and I just thought, “I’m not doing this to my future, I’m going to be miserable.” And I always knew, as I do now, that no one is going to live your life, except YOU. So, I auditioned for theatre school and luckily, I was one of the 30 people to be accepted and the rest is history.
How did landing the role as Aladdin change your life/career?
Landing a film like Aladdin is any actor’s dream. I think it reassured me that my dreams can indeed come true and that anything is possible if you commit your life to it.
What is the inspiration behind the Ethnically Diverse Artists Foundation?
At EDA we want to support artists and lessen their struggle. As an artist, you will undoubtedly struggle, it’s a part of your journey and a part of life.
But if we can be there to support artists of color, who have the least amount of support in almost every community in North America, then we can continue to encourage diverse artists to follow their dreams. And as more diverse artists pursue their passions and become successful, the bigger their support community will be and the easier everyone’s journeys become. It’s a cycle that communities of color have to understand. If you don’t support your kids to become artists, it will never get easier. But if we, as a community, encourage our kids to pursue their dreams we will benefit from the network effect.
What’s the importance of representation in the entertainment industry?
The importance of representation isn’t up for debate – it’s paramount. But I think over the next decade demand will decide how quickly that representation becomes a reality. The international markets are growing rapidly. They want to see themselves expressed in film and television, so regardless of whether Hollywood champions artists of color or not, we will see change. Like any industry, demand drives change, and we’re beginning to see international markets soar. Projects like Money Heist, Tehran, Parasite, the list goes on and on. These projects are paving the way for real change.
What is your message to newcomers in Canada?
Canada is a place where anything is possible. Truly. So, decide as quickly as possible what it is you want to pursue and commit. Once you do that, you will be able to achieve whatever it is you put your mind to. There will be barriers. There will be struggles. There will be challenges. But you can overcome all of them. Not all at once and not tomorrow. But if you put your head down, focus, and give it your all, anything is possible in a country as great as Canada.