For Millennials. By Millennials.
The outspoken British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed is starring in his self-written nine-part miniseries for BBC Two Englistan. Englistan is going to be a wonder on television. Not just because Riz Ahmed is starring in it. But also, because it provides a whole different concept. It entirely focuses on providing a Pakistani perspective on the British life.
Who Is Riz Ahmed?
Riz Ahmed is a popular rapper and actor more commonly known as Riz MC. Not only is he a member of the Swet Shop Boys, but has various big projects including superhero films to his name. Like Marvel’s Venom. Other high-profile films of Riz Ahmed include The Sisters Brothers and City of Tiny Lights and The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
Even though Riz Ahmed has worked in the industry for a lot many years now, what gained him international popularity has to his HBO mini-series The Night Of. It placed the actor on the world map. It even brought him to the cover of the Time Magazine. And even when the series almost got cancelled at one point, Riz Ahmed wouldn’t have been this famous without it. It led to him securing roles in the Star Wars film Rogue One as well as the latest Jason Bourne movie.
Riz Ahmed’s Personal Influences On Englistan
Englistan could be Riz Ahmed’s special BBC miniseries. Not only because he is starring in it, but also because he is personally writing the script. During an interview, Riz Ahmed shared the influences that made their way into his BBC miniseries.
According to the actor, he grew up code-switching. And it was definitely like being chameleon. Riz Ahmed recalled having talked about it with his brother and friends saying that it was weird to switch from places so often. While talking about the switches, Riz Ahmed opened up about his home background. Apparently, the actor went from a traditional Pakistani household and a humble background to be being in a private school dominated by a white middle-class culture. He would bunk school to hangout with his Pakistani friends who were like rowdy boys to some.
Riz Ahmed revealed that he had to change himself so much depending on the role he was in. Not only would he change the way he spoke or the words used, but also his costumes. While he would wear shalwar kameez at home, he had to change into a blazer and tie for school. And eventually, he wore his Reebok Classics and Firetrap jacket and fake Moschino jeans to hang out with his mates.
The Diversity in Englistan
By the looks of it, Riz Ahmed has surely not forgotten his English roots or his Pakistani background despite success in the US. BBC miniseries Englistan narrates the multi-generational story of the British Pakistan Family of Latifs. Basically, Riz Ahmed describes it as the last 30 or 40 years of British history from the perspective of a brown immigrant family. The Italian-American population ratio in the US is largely similar to the British-Asian ratio in Britain. And it is frustrating to consider that American cinemas are fully of Italian-American stories. But the British film and TV displays a complete absence of it.
Riz Ahmed shared that Englistan meant England in the Urdu and Hindi languages. But he wanted to introduce a new concept with the title. And that was to stretch the flag big enough to accept and embrace every culture. The idea of Britishness and Asianness is what Riz Ahmed aims to induce with his BBC miniseries.
Riz Ahmed is surely aware of what it means to come from two diversified cultures. But even then he does not attempt to hide his identity by any means. In fact, if anything the actor is in search of it. Despite being a Pakistani immigrant family in the UK, Riz Ahmed is using his limelight perfectly and for all the good reasons.
Is The Pakistani Perspective Important In Englistan?
Considering that Pakistani culture is a minority in Britain, recognition in a popular BBC miniseries is probably just what it needed. For a long time now, Pakistan has been suffering from a bad repute. And any negative label attached to a minority culture is enough to sabotage its existence and growth in a society dominated by white people. Riz Ahmed’s Englistan might just prove to be the essential element that creates acceptance for brown people in Britain.
Representation is an integral part of success for any culture. Without proper representation, no minority would be able to survive. And if it wasn’t for representation, many of the superior cultures would still be unknown to the world. Brown people are often almost always differentiated on the basis of color and race. And the world is in dire need of acceptance for people regardless of these factors. For a long time, these differences have made life miserable for Black people in the United States. Things aggravated to situations where the entire black community lived in fear of their lives. Similar circumstances are faced by brown people in many parts of the world. And something as popular as Riz Ahmed’s BBC miniseries Englistan would definitely help in triggering a change.
Are Times Changing?
A huge part of the US and UK populations are the brown people from India and Pakistan. Almost 120,000 Pakistanis are the legal residents of the United States. And a further 50,000 are able to naturalize. In the 56 million UK residents, almost 8% are Asian from Pakistani or Indian descent. And that’s a huge part of both societies. In the past, the brown people have continually suffered because of their minority status. With little representation and a complete neglect of their voices, it seemed a very difficult place for these residents. But it looks like more and more brown actors are stepping in to improve their status in the game.
With people like Riz Ahmed, Kumail, Hassan Minhaj and even Priyanka Chopra, times surely have changed. As these brown actors are recognizing their true identities, future for the Pakistani and Indian people looks bright.
I really like the comparison between British-Pakistani and Italian-American representation in cinema and television however I think you neglect to mention one key point. You point out that “And any negative label attached to a minority culture is enough to sabotage its existence and growth in a society dominated by white people” however most cultural depictions of Italians in American cinema and television are negative. They revolve around the mafia and/or corruption even in recent times “The Jersey Shore” is a negative depiction of Italian- Americans showing them drinking, fighting and being disruptive. But if someone were to make a film depicting negative aspects of Pakistani culture in the UK, they would be accused by the Pakistani British of perpetuating negative stereotypes.