Riz Ahmed: We’re better being inclusive
Channel 4 invited OBv as it held the annual Diversity Lecture to discuss progress on its 360 Diversity Charter. The panel invited British-Muslim actor, Riz Ahmed, to speak on his take on the importance of representation in the entertainment industry. Ahmed warned that there were three things at stake if we fail to properly represent all people: our national identity, the loss of marginalized groups to extremism, and a missed opportunity on economic benefits from a “multi-cultural goldmine.”
Believe it or not, the word “diversity” carries a negative connotation that many CEOs hate talking about. Many Industries think of diversity as a frivolous chore - as a cheap bone to throw to disenfranchised communities who lack opportunity. However, Ahmed believes that the entertainment needs to focus on “representation” rather “diversity.” And contrary to commonly-held beliefs, representation has now become a core key to success, rather than an unimportant luxury.
In the aftermath of Brexit, Ahmed urgently stressed that we are currently at a pivotal moment in history where we must now decide what kind of nation we choose to be. Will we be a nation that embraces the inclusion of all people or will we stay inside of a stagnant shell? The path we choose will ultimately mean either Britain’s success or its failure.
The heroes we grow up seeing on television and in movies are often portrayed by white men. There have been 26 James Bond films in the past 50 sum years and not one person of colour has ever played Bond.
A few year back, James Bond author, Anthony Horowitz, rejected the idea of actor Idris Elba portraying Bond because he felt Elba was “too street.” And this is the problem. Whites are perceived as heroes while BMEs are perceived as villains. Blacks are often type-cast in 'street roles' while Arabs are now typecast as 'terrorist'.
In 2015, Tell MAMA reported a 326% increase in crimes against Muslims, and since Brexit the Home Office reported a 41% increase in hate crimes. Ahmed believes that negative stereotyping in the films and ethnic intolerance in real life ultimately cumulates to push marginalised groups towards extremist organisations that offer an embrace and a sense of belonging.
Ahmed stressed that we must create a culture where people are able to see themselves in positions of power. And most importantly, we should not let a few successful minorities in positions of power fool us into thinking we are finished making progress.
The most prominent point Riz Ahmed made in his speech was the “multi-cultural goldmine” the entertainment industry was missing out on. The creative industry now accounts for 7% of GDP, second behind financial services, and equal pay and opportunity for BMEs would mean an added £24billion to the UK economy.
There is a lot of money that stands to be made and the entertainment industry must realise that it now has an economic incentive to include people of all backgrounds if they want to stay ahead of the curve.