Monday, March 6, 2017

Riz Ahmed: Lack of inclusion in media leads to alienation and Isis

Ria Ahmed speaks at Parliament

ACTOR Riz Ahmed has warned that the failure to champion diversity on TV and the movies is alienating young people, driving them towards extremism and into the arms of Isis.

Ahmed, known for his roles in Four Lions and the the Star Wars prequel Rogue One, said the lack of diverse voices and stories onscreen led people from minority backgrounds to “switch off and retreat to fringe narratives, to bubbles online and sometimes even off to Syria.”

Ahmed made his remarks in a speech in the House of Parliament last Friday (March 3) stressing the importance of diversity in the media and how it affects the self-image of minority viewers, giving them a sense of being a part of society and feeding their aspirations with a sense of hope.

“If we fail to represent, we are in danger of losing people to extremism,” The Guardian quotes him as having said, adding that young people who feel unrepresented could “switch off and retreat to fringe narratives, to bubbles online and sometimes even off to Syria. We are going to start losing British teenagers to the story that the next chapter in their lives is written with ISIS in Syria.”


Ahmed has had quite a year with his introduction to American audiences in the award-winning HBO production, The Night Of, which earned him a Golden Globe nomination and co-starring in the blockbuster, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. 


"It takes American remakes of British shows to cast someone like me," said Ahmed. "We end up going to America to find work. I meet with producers and directors here and they say ‘we don’t have anything for you, all our stories are set in Cornwall in the 1600s’. People are looking for the message that they belong, that they are part of something, that they are seen and heard and that despite, or perhaps because of, their experience, they are valued. They want to feel represented. In that task we have failed."

Although he was talking to British audience, his words ring true this side of the Atlantic where America has its own problems of breaking through old Hollywood biases and outdated business assumptions.

“If we fail to represent, we are in danger of losing people to extremism,” continued Ahmed.

“In the mind of the Isis recruit, he’s the next James Bond, right? Have you seen some of those Isis propaganda videos, they are cut like action movies. Where is the counter narrative? Where are we telling these kids they can be heroes in our stories, that they valued?”

###