Hulu’s comedy-drama series “Ramy” has been one of the best and most talked-about shows of the streaming age for three seasons now. Something about the show’s approach to character storytelling, which is usually sardonic and playful, but never lacking in seriousness or emotional understanding, makes it stand out as a memorable experience season after season. Such is the case once again in the brand new third season, which opens with the Hassan family in the throes of intense inner struggle.
The inclusion of American supermodel Bella Hadid, making her debut in a written role, has been a major talking point for quite some time in relation to this season. That’s What She Said is the fourth episode of the season, and Hadid appears in it as Lena, the girlfriend of Ramy’s buddy Steve (Steve Way). Fans of Hadid and the show may have assumed she’d play a character in line with the powerful, outsized spirit of her model image, but instead, the part reveals Hadid to be a huge klutz.
Lena is a lady whose major personality attribute is her complete and utter obsession with “The Office.” (Even the name of the episode originates from her mistimed usage of the iconic Michael Scott catchphrase.) She seems like a natural in the “Ramy” world, but is Hadid really buddies with the show’s creator and star, Ramy Youssef? It seems that they are, in fact.
Bella Hadid became close friends with Ramy Youssef prior to starring in Ramy
Without a doubt, Bella Hadid’s seamless integration into the “Ramy” formula as Lena was no fluke. Hadid and Ramy Youssef had been close friends before Hadid joined the cast of the hit Hulu series.
An August 2022 GQ piece by Sarah Hagi on Hadid and Youssef detailed the backstory of their connection. According to the profile, the two initially spoke through email when Youssef asked Hadid “out of the blue” whether she would be willing to participate in the program as a guest host.
Youssef may have been inspired by the fact that he and Hadid have a lot in common since they are both Muslims and because Youssef is Egyptian-American like his “Ramy” character and Hadid is of Palestinian origin. Not only does Youssef know Anwar Hadid, Hadid’s brother, but the two also have a mutual acquaintance in the form of the Sudanese-Canadian singer Mustafa the Poet.
As a result, Youssef wrote the email, and after further debating the proposal in a drawn-out Zoom chat, Hadid enthusiastically agreed.
The famous model said to GQ, “I was like, this is fantastic.” I knew it was fate even though we’d never met before. It seems that Hadid’s seamless integration into the “Ramy” ensemble, despite her lack of acting expertise, can only be described as kismet.
Hadid and Youssef bonded over shared cultural concerns
According to her GQ story, Hadid has spent the previous several years on a quest for spiritual enlightenment as a Muslim lady. The daughter of a Palestinian father and a Dutch mother, Hadid spent her early years with her Palestinian family in Washington, D.C., until her family moved to Santa Barbara, California, when she was a baby.
As one of the few children of Arab ethnicity in her elementary school, middle school, and high school, she often felt isolated from her Muslim roots. “I would have wanted to grow up and be with my dad every day, learning and actually being able to practice, just in general being able to live in a Muslim society,” the model said to GQ. But I didn’t get any of it.
Hadid’s desire to reconnect with her heritage helped her meet Youssef, who she realized was like-minded and could relate to her.
The actor and writer explained to GQ that while Bella “feels this deep connection when she is in a mosque or when she is praying,” she is hesitant to identify as a Muslim because of the specificity of what that can look like.
Hadid’s solution to the problem was to become close to Youssef. She said, “Rimy came over one time during Ramadan and let me pray with him.” A lovely time in my adult life, really.
Being on Ramy has allowed Hadid to usher in a newfound sense of community
According to the feature, for Hadid, appearing as a special guest on “Ramy” “felt like a logical step” on her path toward cultural reintegration. When the time came to film the episode, she found it to be an even more enriching experience than she had anticipated. The cast and crew of “Ramy” gave her a “Free Palestine” T-shirt on her first day of shooting.
A longtime activist for Palestinian rights, Hadid was so moved by the gesture that she broke down in tears. She explained her inability to hold it together emotionally to GQ. “It was the first time in my life that I felt like I was among people who shared my background and my identity as an Arab. For the first time in my life, I was able to observe my own reflection.”
Mustafa the Poet, or simply Mustafa, was overjoyed for Hadid because of her improved sense of community. When asked by GQ about Bella, he said, “Bella’s been in the heart of a world that doesn’t recognize what it’s like to be a Muslim at any of the intersections.” It’s wonderful to see Bella surrounded by her community, as she is sometimes the only Muslim or Arab in a room.
Youssef’s ability to “cultivate community” and “[make people feel like] Muslim spaces are welcome to everyone,” as Mustafa put it, is further demonstrated by this shared experience, which may help explain how he was able to create such an emotionally generous panorama of the American Muslim experience in “Ramy.”
Hadid’s guest spot was praised for broadening the horizons of representation
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The uniqueness of “Ramy” lies in the fact that it does not strive to portray the Hassans or any other characters as model minorities of any type, but rather enables them to live fully on film, in all their human messiness, complexity, and fallibility. Bella Hadid’s appearance in “That’s What She Said” is a perfect example of this facet of the program. Many other series wouldn’t give an actress of color, much alone one as hype-driving as Hadid, the chance to play a character as crazy and wonderfully entertaining as Lena.
The casting of the model was universally praised by critics, including Yohana Desta of Vanity Fair, who said it was “a savvy move for the show, which sought to widen the scope of Muslim life represented onscreen after its insular 1st season focusing on Ramy and his family… The role is gently bizarre and unexpected, a hard left from any perception one might have of Hadid’s own real-world persona.”
Just from chatting with her and getting to know [Hadid], I was positive that her emotional access as a person, she’s such a nice person, Ramy Youssef said to E!. “I was extremely certain that that would transfer on the screen.” True, it does; the episode makes it quite evident how significant the part is to the woman playing it.