Muslim characters are “either negative or non-existent” in the American film industry, says Riz Ahmad. Why is this so?
British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmad and a group of activists have launched a campaign to tackle “toxic portrayals” of Muslims in the popular Hollywood-dominated film industry.
“The problem of misrepresentation by Muslims is a problem that can no longer be ignored and it is a problem that I cannot solve alone,” said Ahmad, an Oscar-nominated actor who represents a tiny number of Muslims. in Hollywood, in a video he posted on Twitter. .
Ahmad made history after becoming the first Muslim actor to be nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars for his role in The Sound of Metal this year.
“I wonder, if I’m an exception to the rule, what should the rule be about people like me?” Ahmad said, adding that the exceptions do not change the rules, but rather highlight them.
“The progress made by a few of us does not paint a comprehensive picture of the progress of most on-screen portrayals of Muslims that are still either non-existent or entrenched in these stereotypical and toxic two-dimensional portrayals,” he said.
But what exactly is Ahmad pointing to?
Less than 2% representation
Muslims make up about 24% of the world’s population, but their representation in popular American movies has remained at 1.6%, according to a USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study that looked at 200 movies.
Ahmad has been talking about the problem of Muslim representation in the media for several years, but the study “Missing & Maligned: The Reality of Muslims in Popular Global Movies” forms the backbone of his campaign.
Of the top 200 films from the United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia, 181 of them had no Muslim character. This meant that 90.5% of the films reviewed had no Muslim depiction.
Of the countries surveyed, the US film industry had the worst representation rates alongside the UK at 1.1% for each country, while New Zealand had no Muslim representation in speaking roles.
Robin Hood Prince of Thieves is a fun adventure of a movie that not only shows a Muslim character in a positive light, but also has perhaps one of the best on-screen villains played by Alan Rickman.
Calling it joyless just goes to show you’ve never watched it. pic.twitter.com/9JlFY841yg
— 🇵🇸 Ro 🏳️🌈🌌🇪🇺 (@jro616) June 14, 2021
There were no Muslim characters in the 23 animated films taken as a complete sample.
Playing on toxic stereotypes about Muslims
Muslim representation is rare, and when it does exist, it is very problematic. In occasional social media pushes, Muslims use satire to express their disapproval of movies and shows that feature stereotypical Muslim characters. For many Muslims, it is better to have no representation than to be shown in a rigid and oversimplified image.
“More representation please,” one Twitter user recently quipped, joking about the perpetual misrepresentation of Muslims in the Western film industry.
Muslim female characters who wear the hijab are often shown in conflict with their looks. The act of removing the hijab is portrayed as a sign of freedom.
The study highlights how Muslim women are stereotyped and portrayed as submissive by the film industry. For example, the famous American medical drama Grey’s Anatomy shows in one episode that a Muslim doctor tears off her hijab and applies it to a patient like a bandage, even though she is in the hospital and surrounded by an abundant supply of bandages. medical.
Female characters made up just 23.6% of Muslim characters in 200 films examined in the study.
More than 50% of the Muslims on screen were linked to the violence and portrayed as “outsiders” who are refugees or migrants, while the majority spoke with an accent and wore “different” clothes.
Although Muslims are one of the most racially and ethnically diverse religious groups in the world, the characters are mostly stereotyped as Middle Eastern/North African. They are also depicted as threatening and submissive, especially to white characters,” according to Pillars Fund, the organization that partnered with Ahmad.
As anti-Muslim violence has spread across the globe, the campaign exposes dangerous biases against Muslims globally fueled by the misrepresentation of Muslims in film and other television formats, which has fueled the hatred and violence against Muslims.
The study revealed that some of the words and expressions frequently used to denigrate 41 Muslim characters are: “Peasants, are you calling me a terrorist? “learning the language, isn’t that against your religion?” ; “send them back”.