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Riz Ahmed calls out cinema's “toxic portrayal” of Muslims

There are few actors quite as influential at the moment as Riz Ahmed, the recent Oscar-nominated actor behind Darius Marder’s groundbreaking Sound of Metal, a film that includes a cast of mostly deaf actors. Alongside roles in Nightcrawler and Mogul Mowgli, the actor has built a unique voice that strives for societal change, speaking out recently on his Youtube channel over the “toxic portrayal” of Muslims on screen.

Speaking about his recent Oscar-nomination for best actor, making him the first Muslim to be put up for the award, Ahmed commented: “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?”. 

His speech, uploaded on the 10th of June, addresses the racism ingrained in Hollywood cinema noting: “The problem of Muslim misrepresentation is one that can’t be ignored anymore… and it’s a problem that a handful of prominent Muslims in the business cant fix”. The 13-minute video also references a section of the book The Good Immigrant, a section of which was written by the actor himself, in which he says: “The progress that’s 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”. 

The speech came alongside the announcement of The Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion co-published by his production company Left Handed Films, an initiative that makes several recommendations to the film and TV industry, including how to put an end to Muslim stereotypes, whilst hiring Muslim creators to first-look deals.

Ahmed added: “The representation of Muslims on screen feeds the policies that get enacted, the people that get killed, the countries that get invaded. The data doesn’t lie. This study shows us the scale of the problem in popular film and its cost is measured in lost potential and lost lives.”

Riz Ahmed is once again leading the line for systemic change in the industry.

Click below to watch the whole video:

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