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Riz Ahmed wants to stop toxic representation of Muslims. Here’s how he’s doing it.

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Oscar nominated actor Riz Ahmed is here to set things right with the world. Starting with Muslim representation. Something that is significantly missing in the Hollywood industry is proper Muslim representation. In a series of posts and video, Riz Ahmed was showcasing this important problem and the way he plans to change it.

This isn’t the first time Riz Ahmed has spoken about Muslim representation and their rights publicly. He’s often been a vocal supporter of Muslim and Asian representation on media. For his movie Moghul Mowgli, Ahmed showed a personal and authentic view of the British-Asian life and culture. He also highlighted Islamophobia and its effects in his movie ‘The Long Goodbye’ and his songs.

Related: Riz Ahmed’s Mogambo Is A Masterpiece Only Few Can Appreciate

The lack of representation is already appalling, but when it does happen Muslims are often portrayed in a negative light

Recently, there was a study called ‘Missing and Maligned’ by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. And it found that less than ten percent of the most popular and highest grossing films in US, Australia and UK from 2017-2019 had a speaking Muslim character in it. And even when they were, the Muslim characters were often shown in a negative stereotype such as that of a terrorist, criminal, and even subservient. Approximately one-third of the Muslim characters were perpetrators of the violence in the movie. And more than half were victims of violence.

Riz Ahmed shared that these depictions were outright racist. And the toxic representation on-screen directly impacts and effects real-world policies that affect real people:

“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.”

The ‘Missing and Maligned’ co-author Al Baab shared that:

Muslims live all over the world. But film audiences only see a narrow portrait of this community. Rather than viewing Muslims as they are: business owners, friends and neighbours whose presence is part of modern life.”

Riz Ahmed is joining hands with other prominent Muslims in the industry to change the narrative

Riz Ahmed shared that although he was happy to receive the Oscar nomination for ‘Sound of Metal’, it was still a “bittersweet moment”. The actor explained:

“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?”

‘Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion’ initiative

Ahmed went on to say that even though there were exceptions in the rule. It doesn’t change the rules that are currently in place. It’s a structural problem that needs a collective change. From the industry to the people who are consuming these stories, everyone needs to actively change it.

“But I’m here to briefly tell you that exceptions don’t change the rules. Exceptions if anything highlight the rule and in some ways allow us to be complacent about leaving that rule in place. 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 still either non-existent or entrenched in those stereotypical toxic two-dimensional portrayals.”

He’s launching the ‘Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion’ initiative that will fund as well as mentor new Muslim storytellers. The $25,000 (£17,700) fellowships for new and young Muslim artists shall be awarded and given by an advisory committee. The committee includes Riz Ahmed himself, Hasan Minhaj, Ramy Youssef, Mahershala Ali. Moreover, there are also Sana Amanat, Nida Manzoor, Jehane Noujaim, Lena Khan, Rosa Attab, and Karim Amer.

You can go find more information about the initiative from Pillars Fund official site here.

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