UAE-born actress Yasmine Al-Bustami is ‘proud’ to be Arab as she stars in ‘NCIS’ spin-off
DUBAI: There are few TV franchises as gigantic in reach and longevity as “NCIS.” For nearly 20 years, the detective series, which follows the U.S. Navy’s criminal investigative team, has drawn tens of millions of viewers a week, with new franchises popping up regularly across the country. Today, in Yasmine Al-Bustami, “NCIS” has its first Arab star, and she is already inspiring young girls around the world.
“I am always surprised whenever I hear that I have reached people,” Al-Bustami told Arab News. “I didn’t really think about the ability of something like this show to reach people all over the world. Now I see these replies all the time, I constantly get messages. When I finally sit down, take the time to read and absorb them, it can be overwhelming. I see people notice, feel represented, and feel seen, and suddenly I know for sure that I can contribute in some way. And I’m so grateful to people who like it.”
Al-Bustami — who plays Agent Lucy Tara in ‘NCIS: Hawai’i,’ whose second season begins in September and will air on Starzplay in the Middle East — was born in Abu Dhabi to a Palestinian father- Jordanian and a Filipino mother, but moved to Texas at a young age. There she struggled to embrace her identity, surrounded by people who didn’t understand her heritage and had never heard of the place halfway around the world she came from.
To fit in, she did what a lot of people do in a position where there aren’t solid role models in pop culture to anchor their identity — she buried her identity within herself.
“In Texas, I personally didn’t grow up with a group of Arabs around me. We had Arab families we knew who were at school with us, and they all got together, once they found out they were Arabs too. I hung out with them, but (there weren’t) a lot, really. I tried very hard to fit in with the majority of white people in our school, and I really tried to fit in and just be a white person. Whatever that means,” says Al-Bustami.
This caused turmoil at home, as her Arab father worked to instill in his daughter the cultural and religious values he held so dear, knowing that he was the only strong influence in her life who would do so. It was a mission she rebelled against.
“Every time I approached my dad about the things I wanted to do, that my friends who weren’t Arab were doing, we fought our heads off. He’s very cultural, very old-school, and doesn’t give me just wouldn’t allow us to do certain things. He was just trying to teach us about our faith and our culture,” Al-Bustami says.
When Al-Bustami went to her father to tell him she wanted to be an actress, he was against the idea, which drove them even further apart.
“When I told him I wanted to play, it became a bone of contention between us, depending on the project and the role. Honestly, it still is sometimes. It all led me, at the start of my career , not wanting to embrace my identity,” says Al-Bustami.
Ironically, even as she tried to escape who she was and where she came from, it was the game that brought her closer to her identity.
“It wasn’t until I was telling stories and being thrown into stories that I was forced to embrace it because of how I looked and the opportunities I was given,” she says.
But as she got to know other Arab actors, she also began to learn of the boundless beauty that her legacy contained, as well as the incredible stories and genuine adversity her colleagues had endured to arrive. where they are today.
“The roles I started out were stories of Arabs and Arab-Americans surrounded by other Arabs and Arab-Americans. The other actors were so proud and they taught me a lot by listening to their stories and their journeys. It was that motivation I needed – that I didn’t have growing up. It made me want to know more. And thankfully, I’ve now built a stronghold in this community especially in the theater world,” says Al-Bustami.
That love for who she was grew even stronger when she saw how much it meant to people and when she witnessed what she could accomplish when she wasn’t trying to fit in. the majority and rather accepted their differences.
“It has been such a journey. I don’t think I’ve ever been so proud to be Arab,” she says. “I now understand how important representation is, and without the ups and downs I went through, I don’t think I would have understood this to the depth that I do.
“It made me want to learn more about my heritage and my culture and just be more openly proud,” she continues. “I feel like I’m not doing it alone. I feel like there are so many people helping me do it too. And they are all Arabs, and Arab-Americans. All of this really inspires me.
More importantly, she also learned about the diversity within the Arab experience, and as representation increases in Hollywood, the world can see that being Arab means many different things, both in America and around the world. world. And that there are an infinite number of stories to tell.
“The important thing is to make people open-minded and to avoid them being closed in terms of understanding the different types of stories that I think are important to tell in the Arab world and the world Arab-American. It helped me a lot,” says Al-Bustami.
On “NCIS: Hawaii,” Al-Bustami pushes himself like never before. While her breakout roles in “The Originals” and “I Ship It” set her up for the weekly TV routine, the stunts and physicality of her current role require intense training and choreography, something for which she has worked hard and is proud of what she has achieved. , especially in the fight scenes.
More than anything, though, what she’s happiest about are the relationships she’s built on set and the reunited family that made her breakout moment something she can truly be proud of at all times. levels.
“It makes such a big difference when you really appreciate people. Fortunately, the people around me every day are amazing. They make it super fulfilling in more ways than just work,” she says. “It’s been such an enjoyable experience for me, and I can’t wait to continue and keep trying to make the Arab community proud across the country and the world.”