Muslims are underrepresented in films, study finds. 'The data doesn't lie,' actor Riz Ahmed says.

·2 min read

Muslim characters were almost entirely absent from 200 top-grossing movies in recent years, according to the latest study from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California. When they were represented, the study found, many were associated with violence and other potentially harmful stereotypes.

The researchers analyzed 200 movies from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand released between 2017 and 2019. The report, "Missing & Maligned: The Reality of Muslims in Popular Global Movies," found that only 19 of the films in that sample (less than 10 percent) featured a Muslim character, and fewer than 2 percent of all characters who spoke at least one word were Muslim.

Five of the movies in the sample featured a Muslim man in a leading or co-starring role, according to a summary of the report's findings. The ensemble drama "Hotel Mumbai" (2018) was the only film featuring a Muslim woman in the equivalent of a lead role.

The report was released with support from Oscar-nominated actor Riz Ahmed ("Sound of Metal"), the Ford Foundation and the Pillars Fund, a foundation funded by a network of U.S. Muslim donors. It comes as the entertainment industry faces growing scrutiny over issues of diversity, representation and inclusion across movies, television and other media.

“The representation of Muslims on screen feeds the policies that get enacted, the people that get killed, the countries that get invaded,” Ahmed said in a statement that accompanied the report. “The data doesn’t lie. This study shows us the scale of the problem in popular film, and its cost is measured in lost potential and lost lives.”

Muslims are the fastest-growing religious group in the world. The Pew Research Center estimated that there were 1.8 billion Muslims around the world as of 2015 — roughly 24 percent of the global population.

The authors of the inclusion report found that Muslim characters in the 200 films were often stereotyped — "as outsiders, threatening, and as subservient, particularly to white characters" — and just over half of the characters appeared in films that took place in the historical past.

"More than half of the primary and secondary Muslim characters in these films were immigrants, migrants, or refugees, which along with other findings in the study consistently rendered Muslims as 'foreign,'” Al-Baab Khan, one of the study's authors, said in a statement.

The authors, pointing to their qualitative analysis, said roughly one-third of Muslim characters were perpetrators of violence and more than half were targets of violence.

“Muslims live all over the world, but film audiences only see a narrow portrait of this community, rather than viewing Muslims as they are: business owners, friends and neighbors whose presence is part of modern life," Khan said. "By presenting Muslims in an abundance of storylines, audiences can see and resonate with the innumerable experiences of Muslims from all walks of life."

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