Riz Ahmed launches fellowship to support Muslim filmmakers

June 11, 2021
Mogul Mowgli writer-director Bassam Tariq (left) and co-writer Riz Ahmed

British actor Riz Ahmed has launched an effort to better represent the way Muslims are depicted in film after a study showed that they are seldom seen and characterised in a negative light when they do appear.

Ahmed, the Sound of Metal star and the first Muslim to get a best actor Oscar nomination, said the Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion would include funding and mentoring for Muslim storytellers in the early stages of their careers.

“The representation of Muslims on screen feeds the policies that get enacted, the people that get killed, the countries that get invaded,” Ahmed said in a statement.

“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,” he added.

Titled ‘Missing and Maligned’, the study by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that less than 10% of top-grossing films released from 2017-2019 from the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand featured at least one speaking Muslim character.

When they did, they were shown as outsiders, or threatening, or subservient, the study showed. About one-third of Muslim characters were perpetrators of violence and more than half were targets of violence.

“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 neighbors whose presence is part of modern life,” said Al-Baab Khan, one of the report’s authors.

Riz Ahmed, 38, who was born in London to Pakistani parents, said that offering funding would be game-changing in getting more Muslim actors, writers, and producers into the movie and TV business.

“Had I not received a scholarship and also a private donation, I wouldn’t have been able to attend drama school,” he said.

The $25,000 fellowships for young Muslim artists will be decided by an advisory committee that includes actors Mahershala Ali and Ramy Youssef and Hasan Minhaj.

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