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Riz Ahmed slams token Muslim representation in Hollywood, announces initiative

The actor-musician launched the Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion to improve the community's representation on the big screen.

Photo: Courtesy of Riz Ahmed on Instagram

Our Correspondent

British actor-musician Riz Ahmed has launched the Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion initiative to help improve the representation of the community on the big screen.

Calling the token representation of Muslims in Hollywood films 'stereotypical' and 'toxic', he said the problem "cannot be ignored any more".

Riz Ahmed became the first Muslim to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his performance in Sound Of Metal (2020).

Speaking of the honour as a moment of introspection, he said, "I simultaneously wore that slightly dubious accolade with a sense of gratitude personally... I also felt tremendous sadness. How was it that out of 1.6 billion people — a quarter of the world's population — none of us had ever been in this position until now?

"I asked myself, if I'm the exception to the rule, what must the rule be about people like me? What must the unwritten rule be about Muslims — a quarter of the world's population — and their place in our stories, our culture and their place in our society, if any?"

Referring to the presence of a "handful of prominent Muslims in the business" as an exception, he said they would not be able to change the 'problematic portrayal' by themselves.

"The progress that is being made by a few of us doesn’t paint an overall picture of progress if most of the portrayals of Muslims on screen are either nonexistent or entrenched in those stereotypical, toxic, two-dimensional portrayals," Ahmed said.

Calling out several acclaimed films such as The Hurt Locker (2008), American Sniper (2014) and Argo (2018), Ahmed said, "[These] films dehumanize and demonize Muslim characters, insofar as they are the perpetrators or victims of violence, unworthy of empathy or incapable of empathy."

The Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion initiative has been launched in partnership with the USC Annenberg Initiative, The Ford Foundation and the Pillars Fund, and will seek to provide grants for filmmakers looking to change this perception. The grantees will receive mentorship from the advisory board, which includes Ahmed, Mahershala Ali, Ramy Youssef, Lena Khan, Sana Amanat, Karim Amer, Rosa Attab, Nida Manzoor, Jehane Noujaim and Hasan Minhaj.

The Annenberg Initiative's research, titled 'Missing and Maligned', found that Muslims rarely appear on screen or are shown in a negative light if they do.

The study examined a total of 8,965 speaking characters across 200 top-grossing movies between 2017 and 2019 from the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. It found that just 1.6% of characters were Muslim. They were mostly shown as outsiders, threatening or subservient. About a third were perpetrators of violence.

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