Every time you think your love for Riz Ahmed has reached its peak, he suddenly gives you a reason to love him just that little bit more. Whether he’s starring in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story or rapping under his pseudonym Riz MC, this polymath figure has a way of effectively captivating your attention. From raising funds for Syrian refugees, to maintaining an outspokenness about social issues, the 34-year-old from Wembley is known for utilising his media and social media presence as a force for good.
In his latest endeavour, Ahmed delivered Channel 4’s annual diversity lecture in Parliament where he stressed the importance of representation within the media and warned that the failure to champion diversity on television will lead to young people seeking extreme means through which they can affirm their identity.
Speaking about the lack of diverse voices on screen and the absence of stories that reflect the experiences of people from ethnic minority backgrounds, Ahmed expressed that the failure to represent these experiences in mainstream narratives will make such individuals “switch off and retreat to fringe narratives, to bubbles online and sometimes even off to Syria”.
In emphasising the problematic nature of the phrase ‘diversity’, Ahmed explained that the British television industry still perceives the subject as an “added extra […] it’s something you can live with but you can also live without”. For Ahmed, ‘diversity’ does not put into focus how crucial the issues facing the media and politics are.
In light of this, Ahmed highlighted the need to reframe discussions surrounding diversity in order to understand that the crux of the problem at hand is not merely diversity, but in fact representation. He went on to say, “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.”
He added “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.”
Ahmed’s impassioned lecture concluded with a call on the government to actively foster innovation within the creative industries. In doing so, Ahmed encouraged the government to preserve access and funding for young talent and reinforced the need to overturn the unconscious bias in hiring that prevents talented people from ethnic minority backgrounds in progressing within the creative industries.
Thank you, Riz MC, for your wise and inspiring words.
Did you get the chance to check out Riz Ahmed’s speech? Let us know @santmagazine.
Words: Sameeha Shaikh
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