Riz Ahmed Collaborates With Pillars Fund and Others to Increase Muslim Representation in Films

  • The Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion comes on the heels of a recent study which revealed that Muslims were underrepresented and stereotyped in top-grossing films.

Actor, musician, producer  and activist Riz Khan ihas launched a multi-layered initiative for Muslim representation in media, in partnership with the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, the Ford Foundation and Pillars Fund, Variety magazine reported. The Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion provides film industry professionals with guidance on how to support Muslim stories and storytellers. According to its website, the Blueprint includes short, medium, and long-term solutions for change, concrete recommendations for everyone from production companies to drama schools, and a suite of practical resources and contacts to support everything from script screening to casting.

The announcement comes on the heels of a recent study by USC Annenberg on Muslim representation in media which revealed that Muslims were underrepresented and stereotyped in top-grossing films. Less than 10 percent of top grossing films from 2017-2019 had a Muslim character on screen, with less than 2 percent of those characters having speaking roles, the study found out. Titled “Missing & Maligned: The Reality of Muslims in Global Movies,” the study includes a quantitative and qualitative exploration of Muslim representation in 200 popular films from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand released between 2017 and 2019.

Ahmed took to Twitter to see support for the new initiative. “I’m fed up of seeing Muslim characters on screen either negative or non existent,” he wrote. “The industry must change. Our new study proves what many of us always felt about #MuslimsInFilm. The cost is measured in hate & lost lives.”

Additionally, a Pillars Artist Fellowship  was created, offering selected grantees an unrestricted award of $25,000.The grantees will also receive mentorship from the fellowship’s advisory board, made up of Muslim artists, including Ahmed, Hasan Minhaj, Mahershala Ali, Ramy Youssef, Lena Khan, Sana Amanat, Karim Amer, Rosa Attab, Nida Manzoor and Jehane Noujaim. 

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As per the Variety report, 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.”

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