Salma Malhas is a young artist born and raised in Amman, Jordan. Coming into the limelight through her role of Miraa in Netflix’s Jinn, Salma has been deemed the ‘raw voice of inspiration for the new generation’. In today’s interview with Mission Statement on youth excellence, we discuss with her experience as a young Arab woman, social media, her journey, taking care of her mental health, her overnight ascent to the public eye, and more.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Salma Malhas, and I’m an artist. I’m still figuring out where I lie within that really broad umbrella of labels. I study acting, I’m at NYU Tisch majoring in theatre, but thats not necessarily the thing that I most enjoy.
Where are you from, and what does that mean to you?
My whole family is from Palestine, but I was born and grew up in Jordan. I’m also still figuring out my identity as an Arab because I grew up more privileged and by that it means I grew up more comfortable speaking English than Arabic, so by that some would consider me less Arab. So I’m still trying to figure out where I lie within that as well.
Do you see yourself doing more acting or taking a different path?
I see myself doing more acting jobs that I’m really interested in. I don’t wanna do just anything, honestly, I don’t wanna take something that I don’t agree with. Obviously being Arab in the industry, I sometimes get asked to take very stereotypical and limiting roles that aren’t necessarily how I want to represent myself and so, I guess I see myself kind of doing more collaborative work, maybe directing or producing and working with people around me. In New York there’s so many interesting and cool people to work with so I would be excited to see where that leads to.
How would you describe your experience coming into the limelight as a young Arab woman?
Honestly, no one expects that to happen, it happened literally overnight, and it was difficult. It was the day of my high school graduation, and I woke up and saw all these new Instagram notifications which I never had. I would normally get like one message, like a meme or something. Then suddenly I had a hundred thousand new followers in a night. I didn’t know what to do, and not all of it was positive, most of it was negative. So it was difficult, I was 17 at the time, and I’m still figuring out how to deal with the influence I have on people, because I never expected to have that influence on people.
How do you cope with online criticism and look after your mental health?
A lot of ways. Honestly, covid really helped me understand how to deal with that fear of being on social media, being myself and posting what I want to post. For the longest time, I posted what I thought people wanted from me. I only recently started posting things I actually like and taking control of my own platform. I used to hate looking at Instagram because it gave me a lot of anxiety. I also do a lot of yoga, and try to work out and move my body in any way, literally even dancing in my room alone lets out all that anxiety. Now, whenever I post something I try my hardest not to look at anything until the next day so I don’t get hung up on what people say. I also love to write, I’m always writing.
What is one thing you’ve learnt this crazy year?
I guess the one thing is really following what you really feel is right. Listen to yourself and don’t let anyone else around you tell you what to do, because you know what’s best for you, no one else knows that. And if you go with what everyone else wants, you’re not gonna do it as great as when your own thing and what you’re passionate about.
One country you’d like to visit you haven’t visited yet?
What do you spend the most money on?
James Baldwin - the novelist, playwright and activist.
Written by Chloe Monaghan