London, UK – From Bodyguard, the British television thriller series, to the American CIA series Homeland, portraying Muslim characters on the screen is often seen as problematic.
Men are cast as marginal, culturally antagonistic characters involved in perversion, violence and anger. Women are depicted as victims of oppression with no or no agency.
Tired of stereotypes, a new charity aims to change the scenario of entertainment representation and end the widespread use of anti-Muslim tropes.
Released last week, UK Islamic Film seeks to “integrate the Muslim experience into the British cultural center” through film and television.
As a year-round hub, it will host movie screenings and premium classes, among other events, and nurture emerging storytellers with dedicated home funds. filmmakers with Muslim-born ambitions – and other under-represented groups – to strengthen their presence in the industry.
Supported by the British Film Institute (BFI), the charity will also advise works on how to better perform Muslims in cinema and avoid continuing negative prejudices.
‘Faith is almost used as a weapon’
British actor Sajid Varda, founder and CEO, told Al Jazeera that he was inspired to start the project after seeing how the entertainment industry portrayed Muslims after 9/11.
“It is all a lot about belief [after that], ”Said Varda. “The story revolves around Muslims, Muslims and negativity … [and] Faith has almost been used as a weapon to induce distortions, with negative associations. “
He hopes to help reverse those trends and “encourage more understanding” between Muslims and other communities.
“The media has a huge impact on providing information to people, which is the power of storytelling,” he said, linking misrepresentation of Muslims with increased phobia.
“It is a very powerful educational tool, especially for those who are often not in contact with specific minorities, and so it can be dangerous if the media report on the games. common deception such as: Muslims are terrorists, Muslim men are falseists, Muslim women are oppressed and Islam is a threat to the West ”.
‘Muslims don’t feel included’
Varda is not the first in the entertainment industry to voice concerns about the way Muslims perform on the screen, or whether they really are.
Oscar-nominated British actor Riz Ahmed warned in a 2017 speech to the UK Parliament that a historic and pervasive failure to preserve diversity in films and shows television is alienating young Muslims in Britain and other minorities.
Ahmed, who became the first Muslim to be nominated for Best Actor by this year’s Oscar Ceremony for his performance in Sound of Metal, said people would “separate from the commune. orthodox “if they do not find themselves represented by its cultural output.
“People are looking for the message they belong to, that they are part of something, that they are seen and heard and even though, or perhaps because of their experience, they are still appreciated. , ”Says Ahmed. “They want to feel represented. In that mission, we failed “.
Inspired by the speech, film lovers Shaf Choudry, Isobel Ingham-Barrow and Sadia Habib established the so-called “Riz Experiment”.
If any of the answers to the following questions are “yes,” the movie or TV show has failed, it means that typical Islamic legions have existed, at least to a degree. somehow.
- Talk about, the victim or the perpetrator of a terrorist attack?
- Presenting is unjustified angry?
- Is presented as superstitious, out of date or anti-modern?
- Considered a threat to the Western lifestyle?
- If the character is male, would he be considered deviant? If she is female, will she be oppressed by her male colleagues?
According to Riz Test’s Twitter assessment, much of this field still failed.
Backing up these findings, Varda said: “Muslims don’t feel involved, we don’t feel appreciated or appreciated, especially when you see what appears on the screen.
“So our whole ethos is to change the scenario. We need to address negative stereotypes and antics as they have a direct effect on Muslims on the street. “