Riz Ahmed’s Initiative for Muslim Representation in Media Announces Inaugural Fellows
- In addition to a $25,000 award, the fellowship comprises eight months of mentorship from industry veterans.
Riz Ahmed’s Left Handed Films and Pillars Fund has announced its class of inaugural fellows who will receive an unrestricted award of $25,000 and mentorship from well-known Muslim artists. The fellowship is part of a multi-layered initiative for Muslim representation in media, launched last June, by Ahmed and Pillars Fund, in partnership with the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, and the Ford Foundation.
The 2022 Pillars Artist Fellows include Fateme Ahmadi (director, London); Zeshawn Ali (director, New York); Aqsa Altaf (director, Los Angeles); Nausheen Dadabhoy (director, New York); Imran J. Khan (director, Los Angeles); Karim Khan, (writer, Oxford, U.K.); Myriam Raja (director, London); Nadra Widatalla (writer, Los Angeles); Farida Zahran (director, New York); and Ali Imran Zaidi (writer, Los Angeles).
In addition to the financial award, “the fellowship comprises eight months of programming, including retreats in London, New York and Los Angeles, where the filmmakers will receive mentorship from industry veterans including A24’s Sydney Coleman and Hilary Tholen; Netflix’s Aaron Janus, Kauveh Khozein Carrera and Dan Silver; Sky’s Gabriella Kramer-Khan; screenwriter Jessica Sharzer; and cinematographer Bradford Young,” Variety reported.
Ahmed serves on the initiative’s advisory committee, which is made up of fellow award-winning Muslim actors, directors, producers and writers who will help guide the fellows. Joining him are Bisha K. Ali, Mahershala Ali, Sana Amanat, Karim Amer, Rosa Attab, Yann Mounir Demange, Lena Khan, Nida Manzoor, Hasan Minhaj, Nijla Mu’min, Jehane Noujaim, Bassam Tariq and Ramy Youssef.
According to a June 2021 report in Variety magazine at the time the initiative was launched, the idea for the project arose from Ahmed’s 2019 speech at CAA’s Amplify conference, where he gave a passionate speech about Muslim representation in Hollywood and his daily fight against discrimination. “With all my privilege and profile, I often wonder if this is going to be the year they round us up, if this is the year they’re going to put Trump’s Muslim registry into action if this is going to be the year they ship us all off,” he said. “The representation of Muslims on screen — that feeds the policies that get enacted, the people that get killed, the countries that get invaded.”
In 2017, Ahmed addressed the U.K. Parliament and pointed to the rise of hate crimes, which surged in the U.S. after Donald Trump’s election and increased 326 percent in the U.K. since last year’s Brexit. In his speech on diversity, Ahmed stressed the importance of minority individuals seeing themselves and their stories on-screen and as part of a national narrative. “I’m here to ask for your help,” Ahmed told Parliament. “I’m here to ask for your help in finding a new national story that embraces and empowers as many of us as possible, rather than excluding us and alienating large sections of the population.”