British actor and rapper Riz Ahmed has launched a fund to combat the “toxic portrayal” of Muslims in film.
The move comes after a study showed that Muslims rarely appear on screen, or if they do, it is in a negative light.
Earlier this year, the star of “The Sound of Metal” became the first Muslim to be nominated for a best actor Oscar.
Ahmed, known for “Inception” and “Nightbreed”, said:” The problem of misrepresentation of Muslims is something that can no longer be ignored.”
In an online video, he said his historic Oscar nomination was a “bittersweet” moment.
The unwritten rules
“I carry this somewhat dubious honour at the same time with personal gratitude ……. I also feel great sadness.
“Out of 1.6 billion people – a quarter of the world’s population – how is it possible that none of us have been in this situation until now?” he said.
“I asked myself: if I am the exception to the rule, what must be the rule for people like me? What must be the unwritten rule about Muslims – a quarter of the world’s population – and their place (if any) in our history, our culture and our society?”
The 38-year-old Londoner added: “But I’m here to tell you briefly that exceptions don’t change the rule. If anything, the exceptions underline the rule and in a way allow us to leave that rule complacent.
“If the majority of images of Muslims on screen do not exist or remain entrenched in these toxic stereotypical two-dimensional images, then the progress of a few does not represent the progress of the whole.”
He said the new plan for Muslim inclusion will include funding and mentorship for emerging Muslim storytellers.
The $25,000 (€17,700) scholarship for young Muslim artists will be awarded by an advisory board that includes actors and comedians such as Mahershala Ali, Rami Yousuf, and Hassan Minhaj.
Disappearances and defamation
Research by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, entitled Missing and Diffamed, found that less than 10% of the highest-grossing films released in the UK, US and Australia between 2017 and 2019 featured a Muslim character.
When they do appear, they come across as alien, threatening or submissive, the study found. About a third are aggressors and more than half are victims of violence.
Ahmed said many of the descriptions were “completely racist”. In a statement, the actor said:” The portrayals of Muslims on screen tell of politics being made, people being killed, countries being invaded.
“The data does not lie. This study shows us the extent of this problem in popular cinema, the cost of which is measured in terms of potential and lives lost.”
Al-Bab Khan, one of the authors of the report, said:” Muslims live all over the world, but film audiences see only a limited picture of the group, not Muslims as they are – as businessmen, friends and neighbours whose presence is part of modern life.
After rising to fame in the role of an incompetent jihadist in the 2010 satire Four Lions, Ahmed recently said he liked the fact that his character Reuben’s religion and race were not mentioned at all in the film in The Sound of Metal.
His other new film, Moghul Mowgli, is a deeply personal understanding and celebration of British Asian culture.
In his parallel career as a rapper, Ahmed addressed British Islamophobia on his 2020 album The Long Goodbye.