Diversity in the media is already a huge issue that is still largely unsolved. As a Muslim, I have found that Muslims are often neglected from talks about diversity. This article aims to start a discussion on why this is and what needs to be done. Even the smallest gradual change will make a difference and will celebrate Britain as a multi-cultural nation.
In the media, we see Muslims play the role of terrorist number 3, speaking in a foreign tongue to intimidate the viewer. Many television shows and films are guilty of this. It’s tiring, stereotypical and only helps to further Islamophobia rhetoric. If that is the only version of Muslims people see, then it is no wonder that people harbour such negative views to a religion they know little about expect from what the media has shown them. Bigotry flourishes in this environment which is why change is required now more than ever.
As well as spreading prejudiced views, it is also giving the younger generation of Muslims the idea that they do not belong. With little to no representation it leaves young Muslims to perceive that the there is no play for them in the media industry. By excluding them, a whole narrative is missing, a unique perspective that won’t be shared. Yes, anyone can write a Muslim character or play one, but they will not be able to understand the unique British Muslim experience. It’s a whole generation of young people only seeing negative portrayals of themselves and accepting that’s how society sees them.
The solution? Muslims in influential roles such as directors and producers. Perhaps most crucially writers. Muslim writers have the ability to write from their own experiences that would resonate to not just Muslim viewers but to everyone. We have far more common than what divides us. If negative perceptions are tackled, then less people will be influenced by bigotry and unjustified hate. With the creation of more Muslim roles we could have more Muslim actors and actresses breaking into the industry.
However, we have seen an emergence of Muslim characters in the past few years. Riz Ahmed, whose career has exploded in the past year has grown from strength to strength. Raised in a Muslim family, he has starred in the Star Wars and The Night Of, the latter earning him a Golden Globe nomination. He is even an advocate of more representation. I highly recommended his speech to Parliament on the lack of diversity in Britain.
Watch Riz Ahmed warn Parliament about the danger of failing to improve TV diversity
Another example of positive Muslim representation, perhaps the most significant is Kamala Khan. A Marvel female Muslim superhero. It is difficult to get across how outstanding and crucial Ms Marvel (a.k.a Kamala Khan) is. She is the superhero the world needs right now.
I am envious of the young girls who get to grow up with a hero that they can see themselves reflected in. Yet I am more overjoyed that she exists and is inspiring girls all over the world.
However, this is a starting point. We need more positive Muslim representation in the media to overpower the toxic portrayals that are being shown today.
- Amina Elmi, @queenchester, Young Critic
We live in a multi-cultural society with rich cultural heritage that is not being reflected on-screen. This needs to change. There is no excuse good or enough reason to justify the lack of representation in the media in this day and age.
Representation matters to people like me. People who want positive role models that we could relate to. That’s why when I was younger, I was hooked into any show where I saw a black female character. No matter the quality of the show or how it was written. This was because it was such a rarity to see this. Unfortunately for me, writers would try to pander to their audience by feeding them stereotypes of sassy angry black women. The negative stereotypes are not just a problem for black viewers. Minorities are consistently forced into stereotypical roles that society perceives them to be. These characters would be less important, predictable and ultimately unnecessary. One reason for this is the lack of diversity behind the scenes. How can straight white writers relate to the experiences of minorities?
Even when minorities are cast they are faced with prejudiced voices speaking up to raise their objections. Some may remember when John Boyega was cast as a Stormtrooper in Star Wars. The global outcry of racists exclaimed “White Genocide” and that the film studio was conforming to the “PC Agenda” Boyega was bombarded to with hatred fuelled racist tweets. Does their imagination not stretch enough for other ethnicities or is it limited at intergalactic wars?
Cast member Kristen Wiig at the LA Premiere of Ghostbusters.
Another example of fury when Diversity is applied was the all-female Ghostbusters reboot. “They’re ruining my childhood” cried familiar prejudiced voices. Their childhood is over and has been for quite a while now. What they are neglecting to notice is that this movie has provided a younger generation with strong female role models. It seems that whenever diversity is enforced there is backlash. How can change be implemented if we are met by defiance at every turn?
Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One in Doctor Strange
Ridiculously, ethnic minorities are even unable to get cast in non-white roles. This is called Whitewashing and it occurs when a white actor is cast in the role of a non-white character. It is not uncommon for this to happen. A recent example of this is the upcoming Marvel Movie Doctor Strange. Tilda Swinton plays an Asian character in this film. Essentially the film will be a “white woman teaching a white man Asian culture.” There is no debate on the capabilities of Swinton. She is a talented actress but she is simply unsuitable for this role. If people of colour are losing non-white roles to white actors, then what hope do they really have?
An argument against diversity is that it is too much of risk to cast minorities. Studios fear losing viewers and money. However diverse televisions shows and films are advantageous to studios and have a track record of being successful. Television shows that have a diverse cast have higher ratings. Examples of this include ‘Scandal’, ‘How to Get Away with Murder’ and ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’. Films coincide with this. Those with diverse casts make notably more money. For example, the extremely popular ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise. The summer blockbuster ‘Suicide Squad’ saw found that 39% of its ticket buyers were Black and Hispanic. The movie boasted a diverse and multi-cultural cast.
The cast of Suicide Squad
We know that diversity does work and that it is not a risk. So why does Hollywood remain white?