“Art can provoke feeling but its impact has limitations in the face of legal and systemic oppression,” said Riz Ahmed, the activist and actor known for The OA, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and The Night Of. He was speaking onstage at the CAA Amplify conference in Ojai on Tuesday, asking the high-powered industry execs, talent, Wall Street guys and politicos who were present there to act on reducing Islamophobia in the media, reported Variety.
“The efforts of individual artists or storytellers may be bold, they may be progressive, they may act as beacons of hope for other people, but in the face of institutional prejudice and institutionalised obstacles, systemic obstacles, our efforts can sometime still fall flat,” Riz told the audience, which included former US president Barack Obama’s senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, Patriot Act creator Hasan Minhaj, playwright Young Jean Lee, Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson and fellow actors Michael B Jordan and Jamie Foxx.
Riz said he has learned hard lessons over the last 15 years, getting secondarily searched at airports around the world, even as his work has earned him fans and acclaim. At times, he said, the airport guards swabbing him for explosives would ask for selfies or quote his raps back at him.
“Hasan Minhaj could win a Peabody, I could win an Emmy, Ibtihaj Muhammad could win the Olympics, but some of these obstacles are systemic and we can’t really face them alone,” said the British-Pakistani. “We need your help. I’m basically here to ask for your help. It’s really scary to be a Muslim right now… Super scary.”
He continued, “With all my privilege and profile, I often wonder if this is going to be the year they round us up, if this is the year they’re going to put Trump’s Muslim registry into action, if this is going to be the year they ship us all off,” citing international incidences of Islamophobia, including Brexit-based nationalism in the UK and Uighur Muslims being detained in China.
Riz’s call to action for those in the room, was to research how Muslims are represented on television and in films in a data-driven way so that ultimately, they aren’t only portrayed as terrorists or bogeymen. “I think lives are quite literally at stake here,” he asserted. “The representation of Muslims on screen feeds the policies that get enacted, the people that get killed and the countries that get invaded.”
The Reluctant Fundamentalist star, whose talk at the event won him a standing ovation, wasn’t the only one who took the stage to promote inclusion. “I’m not waiting for Hollywood,” Baby Driver actor CJ Jones, who is deaf, told the crowd. “The goal of my company is to serve and innovate and create and produce and hire deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals to become skilled in post-production.”
Actor-producer-director Eva Longoria, at times speaking with her one-year-old son Santiago on her lap, said, “If you are a woman in this room and you have a chance to hire a woman, hire her. If you’re a person of colour and you have a chance to hire a person of colour, you hire them. We have to build the pipeline of talent and we can’t get that experience if we’re never given the opportunity. Be loud about it.”
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