The struggle for Muslim representation in Hollywood-and the danger of falling behind

Last week, Emmy Award-winning actor and star of last year’s musical biopic Voice of MetalRiz Ahmed made a stern observation. Looking at the bleak record of Muslim performance in the movie, he traced the direct connection between what we saw on the screen and the treatment or abuse received by members of Muslim society.

He is introducing Annenberg Inclusion Initiative research, disappearance and defamationThe study found that less than 2% of speaking characters in major movies released between 2015 and 2019 were Muslims. It also found that more than one-third of the characters were described as “perpetrators of violence,” and more than half were proven to be victims of violence.

This is far from the first time Ahmed has spoken publicly about representation. However, with the publication of this research, he and others warned about the potential impact of the lack of or negative types of Muslim representatives in the media on the real world.

Ahmed asked: “Three generations of a family were slaughtered. Isn’t this just a tragedy of mathematics?” Follow-up video shared on Twitter. He is referring to The recent attack in London, Ontario., Investigators claimed that they were targeted families because of their Muslim beliefs.

Watch | The fight for better Muslim representation in Hollywood:

Oscar-winning actor Riz Ahmed is part of a growing struggle for better Muslim representation in Hollywood, partly because of commissioning a study on how big the problem is. [Correction: In this story, the reporter refers to Riz Ahmed as an Oscar-winning actor. In fact, Ahmed is an Oscar-nominated actor.] 2:16

“This is the result of the dehumanization and demonization of Muslims…The Islamophobia industry is the industry that measures the cost of its blood.”

The report itself has similar findings. The author writes, “Violence against Muslims-whether online or offline-shows that people have dangerous prejudices and poses a real threat to individuals in this community.”

“Although the causes of this violence are complex, one area that may exacerbate the prejudice of the Muslim community is the mass media. In the absence of direct contact, entertainment may provide individuals with information about different groups.”

In an interview with CBC News, Al-Baab Khan, one of the authors of the study, also expressed concern about how stereotypes and “horror metaphors” related to Muslims in the media affect their treatment. For example, she pointed out that nearly 75% of Muslim characters in the study wore religious-related clothing.

She said: “It is this kind of decision that may really make people treat Muslims as outliers, or treat Muslims as not part of Western culture.”

Khan and Ahmed are not the only ones who believe that increasing and improving the representation of Muslims in the media is important. CBC News interviewed three creators to talk about their experience in the industry and the direction of the industry’s development.

Watch | Ali Momen on the difficult choices he faced as a Muslim actor:

Ali Momen of Toronto started his performance in a way he regrets now-playing “Suicide Bomber No. 3” in the 2008 movie “Traitor”. He said this is an example of how the film industry is doing poorly in representing Muslims, which may have an impact on the real world. 2:00

Despite success as an actor-both in the movie and in the show From afar—— Ali Momen of Toronto does not look back fondly on his first major role. He said that although this is a stepping stone to his current career, it is a bittersweet memory and talks about general problems in the entertainment industry.

“In hindsight, I deeply regret it,” Mormon said when he recalled the character in an interview. “In hindsight, I thought,’I wish I never said yes.'”

The character is the “Suicide Bomber No. 3” in the 2008 Don Cheadle movie traitorHe said that Momen’s regret comes from the fact that these types of characters-describing Muslims as perpetrators of violence or terrorism-are severely over-represented and continue to influence viewers’ real-world views.

“Think about it: the belief we have is that you can walk into a coffee shop, stare into the distance, meet someone, and then-just with a look-fall in love, and start a happy journey from then on,” Momen said.

“[It’s] A structure and concept about love and art. It still exists in the music we listen to, in the movies we watch, and in the books we read.

“So if art can teach us how to love, then art can indeed teach us how to hate.”

Momen on the left appears with the actors of Come From Away. Momen said that in his career, an early and regrettable decision made him accept only roles he can be proud of. (Cylla von Tiedemann / Mirvish Productions)

Because the character is in traitor, Momen said he had a similar experience, but then decided to accept only performances and guidance that he can be proud of.

He said that it was because there were too few opportunities for positive performance, so that negative examples caused great damage.

“It makes you different,” he said. “Even if there is a Muslim representative who is not a terrorist or evil, it is exotic.”

Watch | Filmmaker Maissa Houri said that negative descriptions on the screen can have real-world consequences:

Ottawa filmmaker Maissa Houri said she stopped auditioning for roles due to the stereotypes she faced as a Muslim woman in the industry. Instead, she started making her own movies. 1:16

Ottawa film producer Maissa Houri said this is something she is familiar with. Although she describes herself as an “unbeliever Muslim”, whenever she goes out for an audition, she says that she is only suitable for two roles.

“You know, it evolved from a terrorist role to a refugee role,” Houri told CBC News. “So last year, most of my auditions in the Middle East were refugee roles-almost 99% were refugee roles.”

In order to keep up, she needs to confirm to her mother the false accent she must wear, and at the same time eager to see more images of people like her on the screen.

“No one on TV is like me,” she said. “I never felt that anyone was looking at anything. It was frustrating-you know, I am not a covered Muslim, and I don’t.”

It’s an experience “Any Muslim or Mena [Middle Eastern and North African] Actor,” she said. So instead of continuing to audition for the role, she started to create her own role-and eventually released her own web series. tainted Love.

However, in addition to her desire to see people like her on the screen, Houri said that it is also important to increase the diverse description of Muslims for those who do not interact with or know any Muslims.

“People who have never seen Muslims before, they watch the news, they watch these movies or TV shows,” she said, “that’s what they think. They think we are enemies.”

Watch | Consul General Zaib Shaikh talks about the importance of media representatives:

Before becoming the Consul General of Canada in Los Angeles, Zaib Shaikh starred in the Canadian TV comedy “Little Mosque on the Prairie”. He said that the report released by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative confirms what many Muslims already know-more work must be done to increase representation. 1:46

Before Zaib Shaikh became the Consul General of Canada in Los Angeles, he was also an actor.He starred in the 2007 Canadian sitcom, and later became the consultative producer of the show A small mosque on the grassland.

Before it was released, the show caused widespread coverage because The New York Times wrote, It challenges “whether Canadians and Americans can laugh at the daily suffering of those who many believe that the threat is imminent.”

Although the show was indeed a success, it was bittersweet for Sheikh.

“It continues to have its legacy and its repercussions, but it is a lonely place,” Shaikh said, because it is one of the only programs that “breaks…the boundaries of a Canadian community”.

In October 2007, at the Gemini Awards Ceremony in Regina, Sheikh (left) appeared with actors from the small mosque on the prairie when they accepted the Canadian award. (Jeff How/Canada Press)

But despite the success of the show, the problem still exists.

“Obviously this is not enough, and not enough really happened from the reverberation,” he said. “Because if it did, we wouldn’t let these reports show such obvious differences in representativeness.”

He now works more behind the scenes-including assisting in the creation of the Canadian Creative Accelerator, which aims to support BIPOC Canadian creators in Los Angeles through mentoring and financial support.

Sheikh said that projects like this, and reports like the Anaberg Research, are vital to continuing to change the trend of representation.

“It is very important to be aware of this, yes, change is coming, change is happening,” he said.

“We need this information because it really proves what we people have felt, known and experienced.”

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