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Actor Launches Initiative to Increase Muslim Representation in Hollywood

Actor Riz Ahmed along with other leading Muslims in Hollywood are launching a new initiative to increase the representation of Muslims both on and off screen in Hollywood.

According to NPR, Ahmed is also teaming up with Mahershala Ali, Ramy Youssef, Sana Amanat, Karim Amer, Rosa Attab, Nida Manzoor and Jehane Noujaim to challenge film companies to secure deals with Muslim creators and to stop the old tropes about Muslims.

The Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion and the Pillars Artists Fellowship has partnered with the University of Southern California Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and the Ford Foundation to offer select grantees an unrestricted award of $25,000, reports Religion News Service.

The effort came to be after a study produced by USC Annenberg revealed the reality of Muslim representation in film. In the study, researchers combed through 200 popular films in the U.S. and the U.K. from 2017 to 2019, reports NPR.

Although Muslims make up 24% of the world’s population, the study showed that only 9.5% of the top-grossing films from 2017 to 2019 had a Muslim character on-screen, and less than 2% of those characters had speaking roles, reports Religion News Service. Similarly, the report pointed to films that portrayed Muslims as terrorists, outsiders, or subservient to White characters, and had characters play up to stereotypes, reports NPR.

“Being confronted with the hard stats themselves was in a way shocking to see how bad it was. Just the extent of Muslim erasure, the extent in particular of erasure of Black Muslims, and Muslim women, it was really shocking,” said Ahmed, according to NPR.

Ahmed made a series of posts on Twitter in response to the statistics, calling for a new program to increase Muslim representaion, reports Religion News Service.

“These stats are crazy. When it comes to #MuslimsInFilm we are either invisible or villains. So we assembled the #MuslimAvengers to try to fix this. Will the industry now step up?” Ahmed said in one post, reports Religion News Service. 

Co-founder and president of The Pillar’s Fund Kashif Shaikh said that his group isn’t necessarily calling for only positive portrayals, but advocates for more Muslim roles with nuances, including more LGBTQ roles and disabled roles, reports NPR. According to Religion News Service, the effort will also aim to balance the representation of Muslims in Hollywood.

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