According to a study published on Thursday, less than 2% of movie characters with speaking roles are Muslim.
The study, which looked at 200 popular films released in the United States
, the United Kingdom
, and New Zealand
between 2017 and 2019, discovered only a handful of Muslim characters, most of whom were in limited or stereotypical roles.
The findings validate Muslims
' invisibility in the entertainment
industry around the world, which has had a negative impact on Muslims' perception and the persistence of Islamophobia
has been chastised for its abysmal diversity
record and the lack of Black, Asian, Hispanic, or Latino actors
in lead roles. Actors of color say the roles they are given are often one-dimensional, skewed, and stereotypical.
Ahmed, the first Muslim to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor and the first Muslim to win an Emmy, believes that improving Muslim representation
in films is a matter of life and death
, and that while the entertainment industry has begun to address its diversity issues, addressing the dangers of Islamophobia must be part of that, he says.
“There is this moment of inclusion. This conversation is taking place, and we demand to be included in that,” Ahmed said in an interview
. “You can’t be pro-LGBTQ+ rights, call for an end to Asian hatred, proclaim Black Lives Matter
, and be complicit in perpetuating the Islamophobia industry, which has blood on its hands.”
According to the study, only 19 of the 200 films examined had at least one Muslim character, and only 144 of the 8,965 characters with speaking roles were Muslim. According to the research
, only 1% of characters in 100 American movies
and 63 British
films were Muslims, and none of the five
New Zealand movies featured a Muslim character in a speaking role.
Researchers have long argued that portrayals of Muslims in television
and film have fallen into racist
tropes, with Muslim men frequently typecast as violent and Muslim women
as oppressed. Especially after 9/11, directors frequently cast Muslims in roles related to war and terrorism, reducing their identities to politics
In 2019, Muslims were the second-largest target of religious hate incidents after Jews, according to FBI
statistics. That same year, Muslims accounted for the majority of victims in religiously motivated hate crimes
in the United Kingdom.
Meanwhile, anti-Muslim hatred on social media
platforms continues unabated.
“It’s not difficult to make the connection between what you see in the media and what we see going on in society in terms of hate and Islamophobia,” said Stacy Smith, founder of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and study lead author.
Movies with diverse casts consistently outperformed their white counterparts at the box office
and drew a larger audience, but Hollywood has failed to cast more people
of color in prominent roles.
Despite the fact that Muslims are the most racially and ethically diverse religious group in the United States and the world, more than half of Muslim movie characters were Middle Eastern or North African. A staggering 87% of Muslim characters either spoke with an accent or didn't speak English at all.
According to Kashif Shaikh, co-founder and president
of the Pillars Fund, a grant-making organization that supports Muslim groups, more than half of Muslim characters appeared in films set in the past, with the majority of them taking place in the Middle East, depictions that reinforce Islam as archaic and Muslims as foreigners.
According to the study, roughly one-third of Muslim characters were shown as perpetrators of violence, and more than half were shown as targets of violence, and 19% of Muslim characters died by the end of the film.
According to Shaikh, these statistics have consequences and perpetuate misconceptions about Muslims.
“The lack of Muslim characters and representation is a lack of imagination, not a lack of talent,” Shaikh said, adding, “There’s an abundance of talent out there that I think we absolutely need to tap into, and we need to let Muslim creators and Muslim creatives tell stories, in whatever direction those stories go.”
On Thursday, the Pillars Fund released its “Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion,” which includes recommendations for increasing Muslim visibility in film and television, such as eliminating terror tropes for Muslim characters, securing deals with Muslim creators and suppliers, and reforming casting practices.
Muslim actors such as Ahmed, Mahersala Ali, Ramy Youssef, and Yahya Abdul-Matten have been celebrated and even recognized for their authentic portrayals of Muslim characters.
The Peacock streaming network released “We Are Lady Parts” from the United Kingdom last week, which follows the journey of an all-female Muslim punk
band, and Disney
released the short film “American Eid” about the Muslim holiday on its streaming service last month.
“I feel very determined,” Ahmed said, “to ensure that this research does not go unnoticed, that people who need to see it see it, that we have the conversation that needs to be had, that they put their money
where their mouth is this month and fund this program.... This conversation is not going away.”