Who knew TV casting directors could hold the key to ending the war on terror?
Pakistani-British actor Riz Ahmed has warned that a lack of opportunity for young minority actors in the United Kingdom could push them toward terrorist groups like the Islamic State.
“If we fail to represent, we are in danger of losing people to extremism,” Ahmed said, according to the Guardian. He insisted that insufficient outreach to minority actors could lead them to “switch off and retreat to fringe narratives, to bubbles online and sometimes even off to Syria.”
The actor — best known in the U.S. for his roles in last year’s Star Wars prequel Rogue One and in the HBO series The Night Of — delivered his warning during Channel 4’s annual diversity lecture in the British Parliament.
“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 said. “Where is the counter narrative? Where are we telling these kids they can be heroes in our stories, that they [are] valued?”
“If we don’t step up and tell a representative story, we are going to start losing British teenagers to the story that the next chapter in their lives is written with ISIS in Syria,” he continued. “We are going to see the murder of more MPs like Jo Cox because we’ve been mis-sold a story that is so narrow about who we are and who we should be.”
The actor’s remarks were met with ridicule by some on social media.
I don't see enough people of my race on TV. I guess I should brutally murder people in the name of Islam. https://t.co/TFIIYdGEMO
— TJ KIRK (@amazingatheist) March 2, 2017
— マイル (@martian_munk) March 2, 2017
— Darth MacArthur (@JohnMacarthur8) March 2, 2017
Echoing similar sentiments made by British actor Idris Elba, who delivered the diversity lecture last year, Ahmed said he has to travel to the U.S. to land major roles.
“It takes American remakes of British shows to cast someone like me,” Ahmed said. “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 actor said minorities in the U.K. want to feel “represented,” and said that responsibility lies with British television producers.
“People are looking for the message that they belong, that they are part of something, that they are seen and heard and that despite, or perhaps because of, their experience, they are valued. They want to feel represented. In that task we have failed,” Ahmed said.
Follow Jerome Hudson on Twitter: @JeromeEHudson