My brother is one of my biggest inspirations. He is 3 years younger than I am. I am more travel-experienced than he is. I have a louder mouth. I feel that my opinions are valid enough to share with the world – all the time (I know that’s not always true). I am quite confident in who I am as a person and I’d like to think of myself as somewhat successful, at least for my young age. But he’s still what I aspire to be like.
I have never met another person who has believed in themselves so much the way that my brother Zach does. He is chasing his music dreams, without a Plan B. And here I am, at 26, testing the waters of mine via this platform with backup plans from B-Z about what to do “in case I fail.” Failure isn’t a word in his vocabulary. Every obstacle he’s faced in the last 7 years of chasing this extraordinary, unlikely dream – and even the challenges he was handed in life prior to that – he has overcome like a champ.
He sings. He dances. He plays multiple instruments. He acts. But most importantly – he’s brown. The Arab kind of brown, to be exact. The type of Arab that typically comes from the geographic area of the Arabian peninsula – you know, like where Aladdin is from. For those who don’t know, Aladdin, or علاء الدين in its correct Arabic pronunciation, is a fictional character from the Disney Princess string of movies. The particular Disney princess in question is Jasmine (or ياسمين), who at the age of 5, I was convinced was actually me. Of course that was because she’s Arab and I’m Arab, and in my mind I lived in a palace. I was Princess Jasmine for Halloween a few years in a row. I named my dolls Jasmine. I named my pink stuffed dog that my little brother (Zach) brought down from Heaven, Jasmine (that was a thing my parents did when both of my brothers were born to ensure that I didn’t get jealous and convince me that my new brothers were great since they came bearing gifts from God for me). I even asked my mother to have another baby – a girl, obviously – because I wanted to name her Jasmine. You get the point.
As I got older, I understood that I was not, in fact, Princess Jasmine and I had accepted that and moved on. Until Disney put out a casting call for a live film adaptation of Aladdin and all my childhood dreams and beliefs came back to life. Except that this time, they weren’t for me. I will never be Princess Jasmine – but my brother would be the best damn Aladdin around.
For the last few months, Disney – with Guy Ritchie as producer – has been on the hunt for the perfect “newcomer” to play the real life Aladdin on the big screen. Articles have been surfacing that the casting crew is having trouble making a decision for the leading role and while I get that it’s a difficult decision for such an iconic film, I can’t help but wonder why my brother has yet to be given the role. As his big sister and #2 fan (Mama is #1) – I’m chalking it up to, they just don’t know and love him like I do. So, I thought I’d help y’all out so that you can come to the “right” decision of who to cast. Here are 3 reasons why my little brother, Zach Matari, should seriously be on your radar starting with the most important reason…
He can sing…
I just spent my entire intro telling you how much I admire my brother for chasing the wildest of dreams – to be a singing sensation who sells out stadiums globally, makes women swoon, and moves people to tears and all types of emotions with his sounds and lyrics. I’ll never understand why casting directors choose famous actors over actual singers when it comes to filling roles that involve LOTS of singing. Emma Watson, I hear, was lovely in Beauty & the Beast – but the most commonly circulated feedback was the disappointment in the fact that no matter how incredible of an actress she is, Emma Watson just does not sing. The movie was obviously a huge success but how cool would it have been to see the potential career of a newcomer take off because she got to play Belle thanks to her beautiful, Princess-like voice? There is so much incredible, undiscovered talent out there – why ignore it and circulate the same actors that the rest of Hollywood works with?
Zach essentially didn’t speak for the first 4 years of his life. When he did manage to say a few words, he didn’t talk much to anyone. My parents took him to so many doctors to find out what the problem was, and why his speech wasn’t developing “normally” like the other kids his age. One physician actually told my parents that because they were teaching me and Zach how to speak English and Arabic at such a young age – they were confusing his brain, causing him to more slowly develop his speaking skills. As a result, my parents cut out Arabic all together and now I don’t speak a word of it #thanksDoc. It turned out that Zach just didn’t have much to say – and when he did have things to say – he wasn’t very confident in his voice and his ability to articulate his thoughts properly in conversation. He stuttered throughout elementary school. He had a speech impediment when trying to pronounce certain letters. He took speech classes during recess to practice his pronunciation when all the other kids were playing outside on the playground. And he had a learning disability. I remember him crying once when trying to do homework saying, “Mama – I can’t read it. The words are moving.” He didn’t have it easy like all of the other kids. School was hard for him. Socializing was even trickier.
By the time middle school came around, Zach was bullied a bit because he was just shy and “nice.” But despite all of these difficulties, he persevered. When we were younger, my parents had videotaped interviews of every year of our lives (I’m sure we still have those videos to prove it). The interviews would consist of questions like, “What’s your name?” and “What grade are you in right now?” Over the years the questions would vary – but one always made its way into the interview, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I went from doctor, to fashion designer to first female president. I still don’t know what I want to be. But Zach’s answer was always the same, “I wanna be a rock star, Baba.” There would be a quick chuckle, and then a, “What do you want to be if you don’t get to be a rock star?” Zach would respond to that with, “I’m going to be a rock star.” Thus resulting in my grandparents getting Zach his first guitar (pictured left) which began his journey to becoming a rock star.
That shy, self-doubting, barely wanting to speak out loud kid – is now doing this…
He went from the little boy who didn’t speak to the young 20-something (which is what you’re looking for) man who performs confidently in front of thousands of people at a time. My brother is a rock star – whether record labels tell him he is or not.
On to reason 2…
He can act…
I could tell you about his acting and how he acts while singing and dancing.. or I can show you through his kick ass music videos for his original songs.
OH MY LORD – Zach Matari
TOSSIN’ TURNIN’ – Zach Matari
Just what you’re looking for, no?
He’s a Middle Eastern newcomer that is just oozing out talent…
Without getting too political (which is extremely hard for me) – it’s difficult to have grown up watching people like myself and my brother only being cast for roles like “damsel in distress,” “oppressed woman in hijab,” and “terrorist #3”. We’re living in a time where representation finally matters. But people still aren’t getting it right. The articles I’ve seen poking fun at your delayed decision to pick “an Aladdin” claim that with options like Dev Patel and Riz Ahmed and countless Bollywood resumes to choose from, how could you have not decided yet – showing just how far we have yet to go in proper representation. Yes, Dev Patel and Rizwan Ahmed are brown – but they’re not Arab. Patel is Indian and Ahmed is Pakistani. Aladdin, like I mentioned before, was Arab. From a fictional “Arabian” city. To those who are lumping us all into one group, believe it or not, there are different types of brown people. And Arab and Indian aren’t the same kind of brown.
So, your best bet would be to go with a 20-something, newcomer Arab with singing and dancing and acting talent, yeah? Yeah.
And if you’re not going to with Arab talent like the Aladdin in Disney’s world – at least pick a Chinese actor. Because China is where the real, One Thousand and One Nights, Aladdin was from.
But yallah, Zach’s waiting for your call…
Photocredit: Dawn Kingston