If television continues to ignore calls for more diversity, the end result could be increasing numbers of young people joining ISIS and other terrorist organizations, warns actor Riz Ahmed of HBO’s critically acclaimed drama “The Night Of”.
Delivering Channel 4’s annual diversity lecture to Britain’s Parliament, the British actor — who is of Pakistani descent — warns that when young minority viewers turn on the TV and see nothing but stories about white people, this creates the danger they will “switch off and retreat to fringe narratives, to bubbles online and sometimes even off to Syria,” reports The Guardian.
“If we fail to represent, we are in danger of losing people to extremism,” said Ahmed in his speech.
“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 are valued?”
As Ahmed explained, the lack of diversity on television is far greater in the U.K. than it is in the U.S.
“It takes American remakes of British shows to cast someone like me,” he said, referring to his role in “The Night Of”, based on the British series “Criminal Justice”, in which white actor Ben Whishaw played the same character.
“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,'” he added.
According to Ahmed, British television executives still see diversity as a “frill or an added extra,” and that’s where danger lies.
“People are looking for the message that they belong, that they are part of something, that they are seen and heard and that despite, or perhaps because of, their experience, they are valued. They want to feel represented. In that task we have failed,” said Ahmed.
“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 added. “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 recalled that whenever such actors as Meera Syal or Sanjeev Bhaskar made a rare appearance on TV, “all of sudden I’d hear my mum shout ‘Asian!’ and I’d run downstairs just to watch … I really want you to understand how much that meant to someone who doesn’t see themselves reflected back in culture. It’s a message that you matter.”