STAR WARS actor Riz Ahmed has warned that more youngsters could be lured into extremism if the media continues to fail representing Asian and black communities on screen.
The British star, from north-west London, said the lack of counter narratives in
TV and film was isolating young people from ethnic minority backgrounds.
Speaking at Channel 4’s annual diversity lecture in the House of Commons
last Thursday (2), Ahmed declared: “When we fail to represent, people switch
off, they switch off at the ballot box and they retreat to fringe narratives which are sometimes very dangerous.
“If we fail to represent… we are going to lose people to extremism, we are going to lose out on who we are as individuals and a community.”
“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 are valued?”
He revealed his surreal experience of flying out to America to attend a glitzy
premiere and being frisked at the airport, only then to be asked for a selfie by security officials.
Ahmed, who was the protagonist in British hit satire Four Lions and recently
appeared in the Star Wars prequel Rogue One, added viewers were looking for the message that they belong but the media had failed to represent diverse stories.
“If we don’t step up and tell a representative story… we are going to start losing British teenagers to the story that the next chapter in their lives is written with Isis in Syria. We are going to see the murder of more MPs like Jo Cox because we’ve been mis-sold a story that is so narrow about who we are and who we should be.”
During his impassioned speech, the 34-year-old told the audience in the
packed committee room that he ended up going to America to find work because there weren’t any suitable roles available for him in Britain.
“I meet with producers and directors here, I think they are being honest when
they say they want to work with me, but say: ‘We just don’t have anything for you, all our stories are set in Cornwall in the 1600s’. It takes American remakes of British shows to cast someone like me.”
In the states, Ahmed has starred in the HBO drama The Night Of and comedy
series Girls. Growing up, he said he recalled his mum and sister shouting out
“Asian” whenever they saw stars including Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar appear on their television screens.
He said: “If you are used to seeing yourself reflected in culture… every time
you see yourself on a billboard, magazine, TV, film; it’s a message that you matter, you are part of the national story, you’re valued, you feel represented.”
Despite gaining a scholarship to get into private school and studying at Oxford
University, the actor said that the distinct lack of Asians on-screen made him question whether he would be able to succeed in the industry.
However, he relied on mentors who helped pay for drama school, which led
to him landing his first film role.
The Londoner cited the shocking statistic that between 2009 and 2012, the participation of black and Asians in TV and film production dropped from ten per cent to three per cent. He called for broadcasters to have representation targets to allow minorities to rise up the ranks more easily.
The event also saw the launch of Channel 4’s Four New Frontiers scheme, which aims to increase the diversity of programme directors in TV and increase career progression among BME staff.