Many mainstream films depict Arabs and Muslims in a negative light. Throughout the history of Hollywood, Arabs have been portrayed in many different racial stereotypes in both Western culture and film. Often portrayed as barbaric, as oil sheiks, and most famously, terrorists.
British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmad, an Oscar nominator actor, who represents a minuscule number of Muslims in Hollywood came up with a group of activists that together launched a campaign to combat ‘toxic portrayals’ of Muslims in the film industry that is dominated by Hollywood.
“The progress that’s been made by a few of us doesn’t paint an overall picture of the progress of most of the portrayals of Muslims on screen that are still either non-existent or entrenched in those stereotypical, toxic two-dimensional portrayals,” says Riz Ahmed. He became the very first Muslim actor to be nominated for the best actor category at the Oscars for his role in The Sound of Metal.
Despite the number of Muslims in the world, the representation of Muslims in movies in the US remained at 1.6 percent. Out of 200 movies, 182, they have no Muslim characters. Among all the countries that were examined, US films had the worst representation. There is no particular representation in animation movies or series either, that’s a lot to talk for itself. A study says that most Muslims go through racism in western countries while being asked to ‘go back to their country’ or ‘ isn’t it against your religion, and ‘are you a terrorist.’
Muslim representation is rare, and when it exists, it is highly problematic. For many Muslims, it’s better to have no representation than to be shown as a negative influence on society. Muslim women characters who wear hijabs are often shown in conflict with their appearance. The act of taking off the hijab is portrayed as a sign of freedom which is the complete opposite of why the women choose to wear the hijab. Islam doesn’t force women to wear the hijab, it is all up to the women if they want to wear it or no. Due to this false representation, people think the hijab is oppression.
More than 50 percent of Muslims on screen were linked to violence and rendered as “foreigners” who are refugees or migrants, while the majority of them spoke with an accent and wore “different” clothes that make no definite sense. Despite Muslims are one of the most racially and ethnically diverse religious groups in the world, the characters are mainly stereotyped as Middle Eastern/North African. They’re also illustrated as threatening, and as subservient, particularly to white characters,” says Pillars fund, the organization that joined forces with Riz Ahmad.