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CultureFilm & TVIslamophobia

Here’s Hope That Muslims Will Be Better Represented In TV And Film

“What people are looking for is a message that they belong. Every time you see yourself it’s a message that you matter, that you’re part of the national story”.

Like millions of people, I was hooked on watching the latest series of “Line of Duty.” It was so refreshing to see a crime drama, which for once didn’t focus on terrorism and portray Muslims in a negative stereotype.

“Line of Duty” was created and written by Jed Mecurio who also is responsible for the BBC hit drama thriller “Bodyguard” in 2018. The Muslim female character Nadia was initially presented to us as a victim that needed saving from her terrorist husband. She was weak and submissive but in the end, it turned out she was the evil terrorist mastermind. It literally went from one negative stereotype to another and it left me feeling really annoyed.

Muslim women are nuanced human beings and we shouldn’t be labelled and depicted within these narrow, offensive, and misogynistic categories. It further demonises Muslims and stokes the flames of Islamophobia.

The Creative Diversity Network’s latest Diamond report shows the representation of Black, Asian, and minority ethnic people working in the TV industry has actually decreased. The British TV and film industry needs to truly champion diversity to stop perpetuating these negative stereotypes.

It can do this by employing more Muslims for their real experiences and expertise rather than relying on non-Muslims who want to entertain audiences at the expense of Muslims.

During a speech to the UK House of Commons in 2017, Muslim actor Riz Ahmed warned the failure to champion diversity in films and TV alienates young Muslims. He stated that: “What people are looking for is a message that they belong. Every time you see yourself it’s a message that you matter, that you’re part of the national story”.

 He believes people will “switch off” mainstream narratives if they are not better represented. 

Riz Ahmed previously acted in TV and films that did focus on Muslim characters from “Britz”, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”, and “The Road to Guantanamo.” He is now a rare example of a Muslim actor who has been able to successfully play mainstream characters in multiple films, Venom and Nightcrawler. He is also the first Muslim to be nominated for a best lead actor Oscar for his role in Sound of Metal.

Taking cues from the Bechdel Test and inspiration from Riz Ahmed’s 2017 speech about diversity, Sadia Habib and Shaf Choudry created a set of criteria to measure how Muslims are portrayed on film and TV. It is called the Riz Test.

The Test:

If the film/show stars at least one character who is identifiably Muslim (by ethnicity, language, or clothing) – is the character…

  1. Talking about, the victim of, or the perpetrator of terrorism?
  2. Presented as irrationally angry?
  3. Presented as superstitious, culturally backward, or anti-modern?
  4. Presented as a threat to a Western way of life?
  5. If the character is male, is he presented as misogynistic? Or if female, is she presented as oppressed by her male counterparts?

If the answer for any of the above is Yes, then the film/ TV Show fails the test. 

I conducted this test with other films and TV series I have recently watched and the majority of them failed. I am fed up with seeing South Asian Muslim characters that don’t represent my religion or culture. It’s boring and disappointing. 

But there is hope in the form of a new charity called UK Muslim Film, which will advise the entertainment industry on how to better represent Muslims on screen, support, and fund projects from emerging Muslim storytellers. 

Sajid Varda, Founder, and CEO of UK Muslim Film says: “UK Muslim Film was created as a response to my many years of working within the industry both in front of and behind the camera and realising that Muslims need to be represented at all levels, in writer’s rooms, and as commissioners … The lack of representation also impacts the types of stories that are told leading to more content based on negative stereotypes which impact Muslims adversely on a daily basis.”

The British Film Institute (BFI) is backing the charity so this is a positive step in the right direction. 

TV and film are powerful visual mediums with the ability to eschew stereotypes about Muslims to create new and more hopeful narratives to represent who we truly are.

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