If you know Oded Fehr, it’s probably from his turns in broad, goofy action franchises like The Mummy and Resident Evil, or Charmed, where he had a long-running stint as a super-evil demon. But I started watching Sleeper Cell over the weekend (and for everyone who recommended it in the context of my love for Homeland, thanks! It’s really good.) and was pleasantly surprised to see him pop up as Farik, an Islamic terrorist who’s chosen as his cover membership in a deeply immersive Los Angeles synagogue.
It’s not the first time that Fehr, an Israeli-born actor who did army service and worked security for El Al while he lived in Germany, has played Muslim or a militant. In The Mummy, he’s the leader of a millennia-old Muslim cavalry who guards an abandoned Egyptian city. His character’s meant to be South American in the Resident Evil movies, and he’s spent time as part of an anti-government militia. I’ve only ever seen him play Israeli once, in Covert Affairs, where he’s a Mossad agent in one of the only roles that takes serious advantage of his ridiculous handsomeness — as Farik, he’s magnetic, but not particularly sexual.
So what does it all mean? His set of roles is a testament to the limitations of racial profiling and typing. And it turns out that militance and hyper-competence feel similar no matter the cause they’re employed in. We might be a little nervous about an insanely gifted Mossad agent, but we still have permission to think his lethality is sexy and handy in an emergency. But I sort of doubt, based on what I’ve seen so far, we’re going to see Farik stuck in a hotel room with a leggy blonde. It wouldn’t make sense for the plot, and it’s hard to imagine that audience for Sleeper Cell, which is already getting pushed hard on sympathizing with some people with very unsympathetic plans, would be willing to go there. We can see another two other members of the cell having sex, but the legitimate member has to appear ugly and violent during the encounter. Only the FBI plan’s allowed to have sex that looks erotic. We can sexualize unattractive people if their unattractiveness is in service of our own interests.