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Riz Ahmed Becomes First Muslim Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in ‘Sound of Metal’

Riz Ahmed Becomes First Muslim Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in ‘Sound of Metal’

  • Director Ramin Bahrani is nominated for his screenplay for “The White Tiger,” starring Adarsh Gourav, Priyanka Chopra and Rajkumar Rao.

British Pakistani actor, rapper, and activist, Riz Ahmed, made Oscar history on March 15 by becoming the first Muslim to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for “Sound of Metal.” Joining Ahmed is “Minari” actor Steven Yeun, who was born in South Korea and raised in the U.S. Ahmed and Yeun are pitted against Chadwick Boseman (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”), Anthony Hopkins, (“The Father”),  and Gary Oldman (“Mank”). 

Ahmed previously broke barriers at the Emmys in 2017, when he won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series for “The Night Of,” becoming the first Muslim actor and first Asian actor to win in a lead acting category.

The New York Times says the nomination of Ahmed and Yeun “is especially notable because despite a spate of Asian-led films in recent years, including last year’s best picture winner, ‘Parasite,’ the academy had failed to recognize the performers.” 

Just two actors of Asian heritage have ever been nominated in the category, the Times says: The Russian-born Yul Brynner (“The King and I”), and Ben Kingsley (“Gandhi,” “House of Sand and Fog”), whose father is Indian. A Quaker, Kingsley was born in the West Riding of Yorkshire and grew up in Manchester as Krishna Bhanji. His father, a doctor, came from Kenya and was a Muslim of Gujarati Indian descent. Brynner and Kingsley each won the award once. 

Previously, Mahershala Ali became the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar, winning in the Best Supporting Actor category for “Moonlight” (2017) and for “Green Book” (2019).  The late Omar Sharif was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Supporting Actor category for “Lawrence of Arabia,” but he didn’t win.

In 2017, British-Indian actor Dev Patel was nominated in the best actor category in 2017 for his role in the film “Lion.” The Australian biographical drama film directed by Garth Davis (in his feature directorial debut) from a screenplay by Luke Davies based on the 2013 non-fiction book “A Long Way Home” by Saroo Brierley. 

“Sound of Metal,” directed by  Darius Marder is also nominated for Best Picture (Bert Hamelinck and Sacha Ben Harroche, Producers), Original Screenplay (Darius Marder & Abraham Marder; Story by Darius Marder & Derek Cianfrance), Achievement in Sound Film Editing (Mikkel E. G. Nielsen), and Sound (Nicolas Becker, Jaime Baksht, Michelle Couttolenc, Carlos Cortés and Phillip Bladh). 

The nominations for the 93rd Academy Awards were announced on March 15 by Priyanka Chopra Jonas and her husband Nick Jonas. 

Ahmed took to Twitter after the nominations. “Wow! I’m honoured to be nominated by my fellow actors alongside such inspiring performances, and am grateful to the Academy for their support and encouragement,” he wrote. “I’m equally thrilled for our visionary writer-director Darius Marder and the brilliant Paul Raci…”

In a series of tweets, Ahmed recognized some of the other crew that was nominated, as well as people who helped him with his role as Ruben, a punk drummer in “Sound of Metal.” He gave a shout out  to the film’s editor Mikkel, sound designer Nicolas, and co-writer Abe Marder. “These nominations represent the time, generosity and talents of so many — all of our incredible cast, crew, producers…,” he wrote. 

In another tweet, he wrote: “and in particular I’d like to thank my mentors in the drumming, addiction recovery, and D/deaf communities…”

Writing about the subject of the film, Ahmed tweeted: “Sound of Metal is about how a health crisis can cut you off from your life and loved ones, and force you to grow in unexpected ways. In a challenging year for so many, I hope this story can inspire us to forge new and deeper connections with ourselves and others.”

Also nominated is Ramin Bahrani for his screenplay for “The White Tiger.” Based on Aravind Adiga’s Booker Prize-winning novel of the same name, the film, also directed by Bahrani, chronicles the extraordinary journey of a driver named Balram (Gourav). The film follows Balram’s rise from a poor villager to a successful entrepreneur in India, showcasing how hunger and lack of opportunity can build and drive a human being’s animal instinct of survival. “The White Tiger” also stars Rajkumar Rao, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Mahesh Manjrekar, among others.

Chopra Jonas also took to Twitter to congratulate Bahrani. “We just got nominated for an Oscar! Congratulations Ramin and team #TheWhiteTiger. Somehow announcing the nomination myself made it so much more special. So so proud.”

In “Sound of Metal,” Ahmed stars as Ruben, a punk drummer and recovering addict who loses his hearing. The film first premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. Ahmed has since earned raves for his performance, scoring nominations at the Golden Globes, the BAFTA, the Film Independent Spirit Awards, and the Screen Actors Guild Awards. 

The New York Times critic Jeannette Catsoulis said “Ahmed is touchingly credible as a musician who loses his hearing in this unusual drama.” She praised the film for its “extraordinarily intricate” sound design, singled out Ahmed for his “tweaking urgency that’s poignantly credible — he’s a study in distress.”

For his role, Ahmed studied with an ASL coach for nearly a year to bring authenticity to the role. He learned to play drums as well. “Drumming and ASL are both non-verbal means of communication,” Ahmed told Variety. “They both shared the same challenge for someone word-oriented like myself, to get past that crutch and communicate with my body. That was the challenge.”

In a Feb. 3 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Ahmed spoke about the making of the film. “It’s been a really long journey for this movie — and even longer for [director] Darius Marder, who started working on this movie 13 years ago,” Ahmed said. “It’s something that has been so close to his heart, and so close to all our hearts who worked on this — kind of like a little family that formed over this intense, low-budget shoot that took place against the odds. It’s one of those crazy stories where you don’t know if anyone will see this or how it will all turn out — but it did in this incredible way that people seem to be connecting with.”

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