Being Famous Isn’t Always Easy: Riz Ahmed On Being “Typecast As A Terrorist”

Credit: The Guardian
Credit: The Guardian

Rogue One star, Brit-Asian actor Riz Ahmed, has spoken out about being “typecast as a terrorist,” not just in movies, but in his daily life too. “As my acting career developed, I was no longer cast as a radical Muslim – except at the airport,” he wrote.

The Guardian has published his personal essay, taken from The Good Immigrant, a collection of essays about race and immigration in the UK. 

Ahmed’s model on the evolution of the careers of actors of colour, in this case South Asians, goes like this: “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. 

And stage three is 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.”

The Road to Guantanamo and Channel 4’s Four Lions, what Ahmed is most known for,are both ‘stage 2’ films. “It turned out that there was no clear pathway for an actor of colour in the UK to go to stage three – to play “just a bloke,” he said. “Producers all said they wanted to work with me, but they had nothing I could feasibly act in. The stories that needed to be told in the multicultural mid-2000s were about the all-white mid-1700s, it seemed. I heard rumours that the Promised Land was not in Britain at all, but in Hollywood.”

Ahmed goes on to detail the racist abuse he suffers at the hands of airport staff whenever he flies – certainly relatable to every South Asian. As his profile has risen, and his attitude has changed, he has stopped being so affected by these experiences. “But this isn’t a success story,” he emphasises, because the rest of the community still suffers.

Ahmed’s role in Rogue One, Bodhi Rook, is certain not to revolve around his ethnicity, not typecasting or subverting racist tropes: stage 3. He might as well be just a bloke called Dave.

You can see Rogue One in cinemas December 16, and you can read the full essay here.

Sneh Rupra