Riz Ahmed, who gained international fame as the star of the HBO hit "The Night Of" penned an essay featured in 'The Guardian' detailing the racism he's faced both in the audition room and as an international traveler at airports across the globe.
"If the films I re-enacted as a kid could humanize mutants and aliens, maybe there was hope for us. But portrayals of ethnic minorities worked in stages, I realized, so I’d have to strap in for a long ride," Ahmed wrote. " Stage one is the two-dimensional stereotype – the minicab driver/terrorist/cornershop owner. It tightens the necklace. Stage two is the subversive portrayal, taking place on “ethnic” terrain but aiming to challenge existing stereotypes. It loosens the necklace."
Stage three, Ahmed wrote, was what he described as the "Promised Land, where you play a character whose story is not intrinsically linked to his race. There, I am not a terror suspect, nor a victim of forced marriage. There, my name might even be Dave. In this place, there is no necklace."
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Ahmed, who starred opposite Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo in the 2014 thriller "Nightcrawler" said he started acting professionally during the post-9/11 boom for "stage-one stereotypes." And while he has gained greater recognition with more high profile roles, "airport security did not get the memo."
Ahmed describes being routinely "frogmarched to unmarked rooms" at various airports where he's been "insulted, threatened and attacked."
"'What kinda film you making? Did you become an actor to further the Muslim struggle?' an officer screamed, twisting my arm to the point of snapping," Ahmed wrote. "The question is disturbing not only because it endangers artistic expression, but because it suggests our security services don't quite grasp the nature of the terror threat we all face."
Ahmed went on to compare the pitfalls of the audition room and the airport interrogation room, saying they are the same. "They are also places where you are reduced to your marketability or threat-level, where the length of your facial hair can be a deal-breaker, where you are seen, and hence see yourself, in reductive labels – never as "just a bloke called Dave."