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Muslims are rarely portrayed in movies and when they are portrayed they are usually portrayed as stereotypical terrorists. What Oscar-nominated actor Riz Ahmed calls, “a dangerous metaphor.” After talking about this issue for several years, he was looking for solid data. Now he got it. This week, the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative came out with the report it requested. It’s titled The Missing and the Cursed: The Reality of Muslims in Popular World Films.
University of Southern California researchers combed through 200 popular films from the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand from 2017 to 2019. They found that only six of them had a Muslim role in the lead role, and only one of those was female. Of the nearly 9,000 part speaking, less than 2% were Muslim. There is nothing in animated films.
“It was a shocking way to face the difficult statistics themselves to see how bad it was,” Ahmed told NPR. “Just how much Muslims have been erased, and how much black Muslims and Muslim women in particular, have been really horrific.”
The report cited several examples, including the film Mumbai Hotel, which classified Muslims as terrorists films such as Aladdin It depicts only Islamic figures in the past. Other films portrayed Muslims as strangers or subordinate to white characters. in 2017 amazing woman, Samir’s character had to play a stereotype. He later complained about his limited opportunities. “Not everyone can be who they want to be all the time,” he says to the superhero. “Me? I’m an actor. I love acting.”
Ahmed and the Inclusion Initiative also worked on the study with The Pillars Fund, a foundation for Muslims in the United States. Kashif Sheikh, the group’s founder and president, says that while the Muslim community is racially and ethnically diverse, it is rarely shown in this way in films. He said that Hollywood created and promoted dangerous images.
“When you constantly portray Muslims as terrorists, there are consequences for that,” Sheikh says. “It’s easy… to be stripped of our humanity now.”
The sheikh says his group doesn’t necessarily advocate only positive portrayals, but advocates for more Islamic roles with a nuance. This includes more roles for LGBTQ people, or people with disabilities, such as Riz Ahmed’s character in the 2019 movie metal sound.
In a video announcing the University of Southern California study, Ahmed said he was one of the few Muslim actors to have been able to play roles in Hollywood that are “either non-Muslim or discreetly Muslim.”
“I ask myself if I am an exception to the rule, what should the rule be about people like me? What should 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?”
Ahmed remembers being interrogated at an airport after appearing in the movie The road to Guantanamo.
“I backed down when the MI5 agent said, ‘Have you become a representative to promote the Islamic struggle?”‘ he recalls. , saying he’d rather act than be an actor for the cause. But he says he later realized he had to talk.
“Maybe I become an actor who is seen and portrayed with compassion and dignity, to be seen as just as human as any other character.
The report includes a “blueprint” for Muslim inclusion: solutions for film studios, film schools, and charitable foundations. The Pillars Fund awards a new fellowship to Muslim artists. Ahmed also collaborates with Mahershala Ali, Ramy Youssef, Sana Amanat, Karim Amer, Rosa Atab, Nidaa Manzoor and Jihan Njeim. They are challenging film companies to secure deals with Muslim creators and “cancel” old metaphors.
This story has been edited for radio by Rose Friedman, and adapted for the web by Rose Friedman and Mandalet del Barco.