Riz Ahmed Deplores ‘Dehumanizing’ Muslim Representation on Screen
Riz Ahmed of Sound of Metal spoke out against the “stereotypical” portrayals and underrepresentation of Muslims in movies and television, claiming that such “dehumanizing and demonizing portrayals” result in lives being lost.
Ahmed, an English-Pakistani Muslim, made his comments in a video released on Thursday in conjunction with the release of a new study studying Muslim depictions on film. The study was carried out by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California (USC), with Ahmed as one of its funders.
In addition, the actor and his production business, Left Handed Films, teamed up with the Pillars Fund, a grant-making organization that supports Muslim community projects, to establish a $25,000 scholarship for Muslim artists in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Despite accounting for 24 percent of the world’s population, Muslims made up 1.6 percent of over 9,000 speaking characters in the USC Annenberg study, which assessed 200 blockbuster films from the US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand between 2017 and 2019. Only 1.1 percent of characters in 100 American films were Muslim.
Only five of the 200 films had a Muslim male as the protagonist or co-star. One of the ensemble lead roles included a Muslim woman. According to a study of 41 principal and secondary Muslim characters involved in violence, 53% were “targets” and 39% were “perpetrators.” By the end of the film, 19% of the key and secondary Muslim characters had died.
I’m tired of seeing Muslim characters that are either antagonistic or non-existent on TV. The industry needs to evolve. Our new research backs up what many of us have always believed about #MuslimsInFilm. Hatred and lives lost are the price. Full speech here: https://t.co/bsfpQw4Wfe pic.twitter.com/2itt6IaESB
— Riz Ahmed (@rizwanahmed) June 10, 2021
In the 13-minute YouTube video, Ahmed recalled his Oscar nomination—the first time a Muslim earned one in the Best Actor category—as a “bittersweet moment,” despite his personal gratitude and Muslims viewing his win as a point of pride.
Ahmed earned the nomination at the 2021 Academy Awards for his lead role as a heavy metal drummer who loses his hearing in Sound of Metal.
“Alongside that gratitude and their pride, I also felt tremendous sadness,” he said. “How is it that out of 1.6 billion people, a quarter of. This is a brief summary.