In a speech given to Parliament as part of Channel 4’s annual diversity lecture, “The Night Of” actor Riz Ahmed issued a grave warning about just how dangerous the lack of diversity on television can be. Ahmed has been quite vocal about diversity and championing equality during his career, recently penning a letter in The Guardian about what it’s like living as a British-Pakistani man and getting typecast as a terrorist. His Parliament speech is another powerful message about why it’s so important for the media to show diverse stories.
“If we fail to represent, we are in danger of losing people to extremism,” the actor said. “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. Where is the counter narrative? Where are we telling these kids they can be heroes in our stories, that they valued?”
Ahmed argued that in the post-Brexit era, where Britain has been seeing a rise in racial and religious hate crimes, television is more essential than ever and needs to appeal to all the different communities that feel unheard and undervalued. The actor has experienced just how exclusive British television is first hand, and he criticized the industry over the fact that he had to go to the U.S. to land larger parts and lead roles.
“It takes American remakes of British shows to cast someone like me,” he 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 believes the British television industry still views diversity as “an added extra” and not something that is essential. He went on to say that the industry has “failed its task” of making everyone feel represented.
“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.
Ahmed was last seen in “Star Wars: Rogue One,” and earned Golden Globe and SAG nominations for his work on “The Night Of.” His next film, “City of Lights,” is being released this year. Head over to The Guardian to read more of Ahmed’s powerful lecture.