Riz Ahmed backs study that finds Muslims underrepresented in Hollywood

Riz Ahmed is putting his money where his heart is.

The Academy Award-nominated actor is one of the backers of a new study which looks at the representation of Muslims in Hollywood.

Ahmed partnered with advocacy organization Pillars Fund and the Ford Foundation to sponsor the study “Missing & Maligned: The Reality of Muslims in Popular Global Movies,” which was released by Dr. Stacy L. Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.

“The groundbreaking study includes a quantitative and qualitative exploration of Muslim representation in 200 popular films from the U.S., U.K., Australia, and New Zealand released between 2017 and 2019,” according to the Pillars Fund site. “The results point to the scope of the problem and have prompted action from this coalition of voices to tackle some of the underlying reasons for the lack of Muslims in popular movies.”

Despite being one of the fastest-growing groups in the world, according to the Pillars Fund the study found “Less than 2% of more than 8,500 speaking characters across the films examined were Muslim. When the movies were examined by country of origin, 5.6% of characters in 32 Australian films were Muslim, as were 1.1% of characters in 100 U.S. movies, and 1.1% of characters in 63 U.K. films.”

“The representation of Muslims on screen feeds the policies that get enacted, the people that get killed, the countries that get invaded,” Ahmed said in a statement. “The data doesn’t lie. This study shows us the scale of the problem in popular film, and its cost is measured in lost potential and lost lives.”

In a video announcing the study Ahmed recognized that he is one of a few Muslim actors in Hollywood who are able to portray characters who are “either non-Muslim or unremarkably Muslim.”

“I ask myself if I’m the exception to the rule, what must the rule be about people like me?,” he said. “What must the unwritten rule be about Muslims, a quarter of the world’s population and their place in our stories, our culture and their place in our society, if any?”

The report also found that when Muslims do appear in films they are overwhelmingly portrayed “as outsiders, threatening, and as subservient, particularly to white characters.”

Ahmed, the Pillars Fund and the Ford Foundation have created $25,000 fellowships for Muslim storytellers to help improve Muslim representation.

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