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Moon Knight is the first Marvel Studios project to lean heavily on elements of Egyptian mythology. The title character, played by Oscar Isaac, is granted his superhero abilities by Khonshu, the Egyptian god of the moon, and other major Egyptian deities and bits of lore play a crucial role, as does the landscape of Egypt itself.
In an effort to get Egypt right, Marvel Studios turned to filmmaker Mohamed Diab, an Egyptian director who first rose to prominence with his film Cairo 678. For Diab, authentically portraying his home country and its background was an essential part of the upcoming Disney+ series, something he made clear when making his pitch to Marvel.
“In my pitch, there was a big part about Egypt, and how inauthentically it has been portrayed throughout Hollywood’s history," Diab said in an interview with SFX Magazine. "It’s always exotic – we call it orientalism. It dehumanizes us. We are always naked, we are always sexy, we are always bad, we are always over the top."
As an example of the kind of Egyptian portrayal he wasn't interested in with Moon Knight, Diab brought up another major recent superhero release, 2020's Wonder Woman 1984. In that film, there's an extended action sequence in which Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) and Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) try to chase down Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), who's using his connections in Egypt to secure the holdings of an oil magnate. Though it's mostly an excuse for an action setpiece in a faraway locale, the Egypt sequence drew criticism after WW84's release for the way the country was portrayed, something Diab also noticed, and hasn't forgotten.
"You never see Cairo. You always see Jordan shot for Cairo, Morocco shot for Cairo, sometimes Spain shot for Cairo. This really angers us," Diab said. "I remember seeing Wonder Woman 1984 and there was a big sequence in Egypt and it was a disgrace for us. You had a sheik – that doesn’t make any sense to us. Egypt looked like a country from the Middle Ages. It looked like the desert."
With Moon Knight, Diab saw an opportunity to give a more accurate portrayal of his homeland, while also having fun with the character's comic book roots and playing up the fantasy elements.
"[It's] part of the show because it’s part of the comic book. It’s part of how he gets his powers. It’s ingrained in it." Diab said. "There was definitely room to play [in Moon Knight] but keep it as authentic as possible, in the realm of being fantastical. Even in the original comic books they did a great job of researching and trying to make Egypt authentic.”
We'll see more of Diab's take on superheroes in Egypt when Moon Knight premieres March 30 on Disney+.