Pakistani-British musician and film star Riz Ahmed who has always been vocal about Muslims’ representation in Hollywood has said that the Night of star still shakes his head at the way Muslims are portrayed onscreen.
In an interview, Ahmad said, “The game right now is messed up. The game right now is rigged.”
Ahmad added, “Muslims are either not on screen or they are [and] they’re the bad guys. They’re perpetrators or victims of violence. We’re either invisible or we’re villainized, cause the stories we tell about our community affect the laws that get passed, the people that get attacked, the people that get invaded.”
The actor was commenting on a clip of Clint Eastwood-directed blockbuster film American Sniper, in which star Bradley Cooper shoots a Muslim child during the Iraq War. As the scene played onscreen, Ahmed shook his head.
He said, “This is so f***** up. It’s actually hard to watch this and not get angry. It’s crazy to think that, like, how many people had to say this was okay for this to be made. I don’t think we even have the time to fully explain how f***** up that clip is on so many levels. It’s just super racist.”
Muslim as terrorists
The two-time Golden Globe Award winner pointed out that most of the Muslim people featured in films were terrorists.
“[We’re] gonna look back on that and look at it with the same cringe as we look at, you know, films that had blackface in them. Or films with, like, you know, cowboys and Indians, [where] the only good Indian are a dead Indian,” remarked Ahmad, “Really, that’s what you’re saying, the only good Muslim is a dead one. This stuff’s so dangerous because it enables the invasion of countries. It enables hate crimes. It enables discriminatory and racist laws being passed.”
The primetime Emmy award winner Ahmad called such a style of film ‘whack, outdated, racist’ and said that such carelessness ‘costs live.’
The actor emphasized that the filmmakers should portray a Muslim community that’s more diverse when it comes to race, geography, gender, sexuality, and abilities. Ahmed also co-wrote and starred in the new movie Mogul Mowgli, about a British Pakistani rapper, in which the background of the character Zaheer is strikingly similar to Ahmed’s.
The actor was born in Britain to a Pakistani family, performed as a musician. The character’s name is actually Zaheer, but he goes by Zed, and that’s also a situation familiar to the man who played him. Ahmed’s first name is actually Rizwan.
Ahmad explained, “Zaheer has changed his name to Zed and the question is, is that a choice he made or is that something he was forced to do, because [he wanted] to fit in, because people couldn’t pronounce his name. And I sometimes ask myself that question. I have kind of censored my full name, and on some level, I wonder whether it’s just got too much weight and too much history.” On that subject, Ahmed had clearly made a decision. “One thing I’ll say is, after this film, I introduce myself as Rizwan.”
But the change in owning our stories, he said, has to be a collective effort. “This isn’t something that I’m going to solve on my own.”
Ahmad added, “It’s going to take all of us to come together. It can sometimes be draining. I would much rather be discussing my creative craft and my artistic inspirations, but I feel a responsibility to speak out and to open the door for others, empower people to tell their own stories.”