Riz Ahmed just made a *very* strong case for more representation on TV
As if you needed one more reason to fully round out your crush on Riz Ahmed, you might want to listen a speech he gave to the U.K. Parliament on Friday night. In the address, Riz Ahmed made a strong case for representation in the media. He breaks it down in a way that you can likely steal the next time you need to succinctly explain why “it matters” that a wide variety of stories are told by all different kinds of actors. The actor, and sometimes rapper, said that when he was young, it was a rare occasion that he saw himself represented on television.
"All of sudden I’d hear my mum shout ‘ASIAN’ and I’d run downstairs just to watch … I really want you to understand how much that meant to someone who doesn’t see themselves reflected back in culture. It’s a message that you matter."
He noted that just because he’s in Star Wars or that Idris Elba is on TV doesn’t mean that, as a culture, we’ve reached the limit of diversity. Ahmed added that in America, there was still a need for the Black Lives Matter movement, even though we had a sitting black president. Because it’s not about “diversity,” because that still leads to typecasting. It’s about “representation.” They’re two different things.
What he was really doing was scolding the British parliament a bit. He even said that America does representation better than the U.K., which might be more of a “grass is always greener” type thing more than reality, but he does have a point about most British programming. It’s stuck in the past. Ahmed said,
"It takes American remakes of British shows to cast someone like me. We end up going to America to find work. I meet with producers and directors here and they say ‘we don’t have anything for you, all our stories are set in Cornwall in the 1600s."
The lack of diversity could have serious effects, Ahmed suggested. He made a point that right now, telling Muslim children that they matter, through representation in the media, could even help fight radicalization.
He said, “If we fail to represent, we are in danger of losing people to extremism.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.” Ahmed asked, “Where is the counter narrative? Where are we telling these kids they can be heroes in our stories?”
Ahmed chided television producers for thinking that they can just sprinkle in some people of color or an LGBTQ character and call it a day. But that’s just as bad, he said, as nothing at all. Representation means telling the stories of the people who have long been left out of TV sitcoms and movies. The guy has a point.