The initiative: Actor Riz Ahmed has become just as well known for his activism as for his performances. In taking his fight a step further, the Oscar-nominated actor is launching a multi-layered initiative for Muslim representation in media. He has partnered with the USC Annenberg inclusive initiative, the Ford Foundation, and Pillars fund to create $25,000 worth of fellowships for Muslim storytellers. The grantees will also receive mentorship from the fellowship’s advisory board, made up of Muslim artists, including Mahershala Ali, Ramy Youssef, Lena Khan, Hasan Minhaj, etc. The multi-year program will focus on directors and writers and hopefully expand to include literature, music, and visual arts in the future.
“Having more Muslim storytellers tell their stories, having more nuanced, messy, humanised three-dimensional portrayals of Muslims is crucial and key, and we need to have that, but it all comes to nothing if we carry on churning out these really toxic and frankly racist and outdated portrayals as well,” said Ahmed on the importance of the initiative.
More on the research: Along with the initiative, organisers asked USC’s research department to analyse the depiction of Muslims on screen, so that casting directors can act on this data. Their data found that less than 10% of top-grossing films from 2017-2019 had a Muslim character on screen, and less than 2% of those characters had a speaking role. The research shows that Muslim characters are rooted in either a fantastical past or branded as ‘foreign.’ The study foundNearly 40% of Muslim primary and secondary characters were depicted as perpetrators of violence, and more than half (53.7%) of the characters are targeted by violence.
“This failure of representation is experienced by Muslims as pain, physical pain, in terms of being attacked, in terms of countries being invaded, in terms of discriminatory legislation.” explained Ahmed.
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