Pakistan-Origin Muslim Actor Riz Ahmad Leads Campaign to Make Hollywood More Inclusive
“With all my privilege and profile, I often wonder if this is going to be the year they round us up, if this is the year they’re going to put Trump’s Muslim registry into action, if this is going to be the year they ship us all off,” Riz Ahmad said back in 2019 at Creative Artists Agency's Amplify Conference. “The representation of Muslims on screen — that feeds the policies that get enacted, the people that get killed, the countries that get invaded.”
|British Pakistani Muslim Actor Rizwan Ahmad|
Who is Riz Ahmad?
Oxford-educated British Pakistani Rizwan Ahmad was born in Wembley, England in 1982. His parents migrated to the United Kingdom from Karachi, Pakistan in the 1970s. Riz is among the highest profile Muslim actors in Hollywood today. He has won an Emmy and received an Oscar nomination for acting. Riz has been an outspoken critic of the negative stereotyping of Muslims in western mainstream entertainment industry, particularly Hollywood. He blames it on Islamophobia from the lack of Muslim representation in Hollywood.
“But sometimes, when you’ve got a feeling anecdotally and experientially, and you’ve been gas lit, you need that data,” he explained to Variety recently. “You need to bring the big guns to come in, and show you that this isn’t just in your head.”
The US entertainment media in Hollywood has been at the forefront of promoting the image of all Muslims as terrorists. Popular television shows like "24" and "Homeland" have done it on a consistent basis.
In a recent roundtable discussion titled "Can Television be Fair to Muslims?", Showtime's "Homeland's co-creator Howard Gordon acknowledged that his show has fed Islamophobia in America. Participants included both Muslims and Non-Muslims engaged in writing and producing popular TV shows such as Aasif Mandvi, Zarqa Nawaz, Melena Ryzik, Joshua Saffran, Howard Gordon and Cherian Dabis.
Here's a brief excerpt of the exchange:
MELENA RYZIK: The F.B.I. has said that attacks against Muslims were up 67 percent last year. Do you have any anxiety about your shows being fodder for that?
HOWARD GORDON: The short answer is, absolutely, yes.
RYZIK: What can you do to handle that?
GORDON: On “Homeland,” it’s an ongoing and very important conversation.
For instance, this year, the beginning of it involves the sort of big business of prosecuting entrapment. It actually tests the edges of free speech. How can someone express their discontent with American policy — even a reckless kid who might express his views that may be sympathetic to enemies of America, but still is not, himself, a terrorist, but is being set up to be one by the big business of government?
For me to answer, personally, that question, it’s a difficult one. “24” having been the launching point for me to engage in these conversations, which I have been having for 10 years, and being very conscious about not wanting to be a midwife to these base ideas. We’re all affected, unwittingly, by who we are and how we see the world. It requires creating an environment where people can speak freely about these things. It requires this vigilant empathy.