Two years in the past, actor and activist Riz Ahmed approached Dr. Stacy L. Smith — the founding father of USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative — about conducting a examine of Muslim illustration in Hollywood. They each knew the numbers could be grim. But Smith, well-known for producing damning information units that maintain the leisure business’s collective ft to the hearth, was intrigued.
“It’s really important to be able to fill gaps with data,” she stated. “And if we can lend the initiative platform and methodology to address a pressing social issue, it’s always a good idea.”
The examine — “Missing & Maligned: The Reality of Muslims in Popular Global Movies” — is a quantitative and qualitative exploration of Muslim illustration in 200 widespread movies from the U.S., U.Ok., Australia and New Zealand, launched between 2017 and 2019. It discovered that lower than 2 p.c of greater than 8,500 talking characters had been Muslim. Less than 10 p.c of the 200 movies featured at the least one Muslim character talking on-screen. In different phrases, greater than 90 p.c of the movies included within the examine, launched Thursday, didn’t function a single Muslim character in a talking function. And even when a movie does embody a Muslim character, they’re extra prone to be perpetrators of violence (about one-third) or victims of violence (greater than half). Muslim ladies and ladies are significantly invisible in widespread movies; they account for less than 23.6 p.c of Muslim characters, whereas 76.4 p.c are males or boys.
The examine was commissioned by Muslim advocacy group The Pillars Fund with help from the Ford Foundation and Ahmed’s manufacturing firm, Left Handed Films. And it features a “Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion,” spearheaded by Pillars Fund, that particulars sensible steps the business can take, together with the Pillars Artist Fellowship, which is able to provide $25,000 unrestricted awards to early profession Muslim artists within the U.S. and U.Ok. For its pilot yr, the fellowship will give attention to TV and movie administrators and writers with the intention of broadening to different storytelling mediums together with literature, music and the visible arts.
“The representation of Muslims on screen feeds the policies that get enacted, the people that get killed, the countries that get invaded,” stated Ahmed in an announcement accompanying the examine. “The data doesn’t lie. This study shows us the scale of the problem in popular film, and its cost is measured in lost potential and lost lives.”
If the terrorist assaults in New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, profoundly altered the worldwide political panorama, spawning America’s limitless wars, creating thousands and thousands of refugees and giving rise to an enormous security-industrial advanced, its impact on Hollywood has additionally been profound. From “24” and “Homeland” (a present former President Barack Obama declared his favourite) to Oscar-winning movies together with “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” the business mined the tragedy for box-office gold and turned the Muslim-as-terrorist trope right into a staple of widespread storytelling.
“The film industry really fell into line with the politics of the Bush administration and the politics of homeland security in a way that limited so much of the freedom of Muslims both here and abroad,” noticed Arij Mikati, the managing director of tradition change at Pillars Fund.
At that second, America’s TV screens had been crammed with photographs of the hijackers, awakening a scourge of Islamophobia that has pervaded widespread leisure for 20 years. So pervasive was the unfairness that a number of years after 9/11, “Muslim” was blithely employed as a pejorative to smear Obama in the course of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Al-Baab Kahn, one of many authors of the Annenberg examine, immigrated to America from Pakistan within the months after 9/11. She was 5 years previous on the time.
“My parents were so excited,” she recalled. “We were here to live the American Dream. But what I remember at the time is there was this notion of seeing everything around you as an attack on your character. We weren’t able to write the narrative. The narrative was written for us. What we’re seeing now, especially with this research, is that enough is enough. And we are here to tell our own stories.”
Indeed, after 9/11, it was if Muslims solely existed within the context of America’s security-industrial advanced. “I think about a lot of things other than national security when I wake up in the morning,” stated Mikati, who’s Lebanese-American. “Terror tropes are so problematic politically, but they’re really flattening creatively.”
For Smith and Khan, the erasure of Muslim characters in animation is especially notable and it mirrors analysis Smith has accomplished round 9/11, when she discovered that youngsters who had been uncovered to information protection of 9/11 had heightened security considerations even a yr after the assaults. The new examine discovered not one animated film featured a Muslim character and solely seven Muslim characters had been youngsters. “You’re looking at the complete erasure of a community except for storylines that are violent, disparaging or set in the past,” stated Smith.
The drawback, like so lots of the yawning inclusion gaps in Hollywood, is a dearth of Muslims within the inventive ecosystem. The Pillars Artist Fellowship goals to treatment that. But the movie business might additionally be taught from artists working in tv, the place the barrier to entry has historically been much less exclusionary.
Nida Manzoor’s “We Are Lady Parts,” a few tight-knit group of Muslim ladies, is a microcosm of the Muslim diaspora together with South Asian, Arab and Black. The comedy, on Peacock, embodies the intersectionality that exists in a group that encompasses almost two billion individuals. And it’s in contrast to the rest on TV. The ladies discuss politics, they’ve tattoos, they get excessive, generally they don the hijab, generally they don’t.
Ramy Youssef’s Hulu comedy “Ramy,” a few first-generation Egyptian-American Muslim Millennial rising up in New Jersey, is an instance of the form of pipeline constructing the business might want to decide to whether it is to start to right the issue. Youssef, who took dwelling a comedy actor Golden Globe in 2020, has stocked his writers’ room with Muslim Americans, together with Sahar Ansani. The daughter of Iranian immigrants, Ansani began on the present as a author’s assistant throughout season one, and by the second season was promoted to author. And she will not be the one one. Youssef and co-creators Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch launched three Muslim writers to their first writers’ room in season one; by the upcoming third season, there have been seven Muslim writers of various ranges, from employees author to govt producer.
“The writers room embodies the range of race and gender identities that the show projects on screen,” says Mikati, who’s a inventive marketing consultant on the present. “So he’s really pulling from that place of intimate knowledge. It is such an incredibly smart way to take risks on people. [Youssef] really created his own pipeline program.”
As Hollywood has been pressured to reckon with a long time of reductive storytelling, there have been quite a few ham-handed makes an attempt at inclusion; a extensively mocked 2018 scene from “Grey’s Anatomy” wherein a personality rips off her hijab to make use of it as a tourniquet possible wouldn’t occur at the moment. But that’s not precisely progress. The #MeToo and Black Lives Matter actions have pressured the beginnings of a reckoning within the business with Hollywood studios and media firms providing public help for these actions. But what occurs after the statements dry up, and after the checks get written?
“Research like this is really important because it has to be used to confront people who say, ‘We’re doing so well with diversity and inclusion,’” says Smith. “These are things that can be changed if producers, studio executives, content creators embrace the imagination that they allegedly have, to tell compelling stories that reflect the world as it exists, instead of the stories that only exist in their minds.”