British-Pakistani actor and singer Riz Ahmed is sending waves of inspiration on the internet with two videos of what he does best – giving voice to marginalised communities.
Delivering Channel4’s annual diversity lecture in the UK Parliament, the Golden Globe-nominated actor spoke of how the lack or under-representation of minority groups in television shows and films could foster right extremism.
“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, who has starred in Star Wars prequel Rogue One and Jason Bourne expressed the need for diverse stories in his impassioned 23-minute speech (video above).
“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.”
Despite minority representation in public offices, such as Obama in the White House, said Ahmed, the Black Lives Matter movement was still needed. “Prominent successes can mask structural problems,” he said. His solution is to fill the void with credible portrayal in creative industries.
Just a day before his speech, Ahmed released a music video which paid tribute to the slain Pakistani social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch.
The song, titled Aaja, is produced by Swet Shop Boys – a trio comprising Ahmed aka Riz MC, American born Himanshu Suri aka rapper Heems, and producer Redinho. The video also features Ali Sethi, a Pakistani singer.
Their love for Qawwali Sufi devotional music and American rap can be seen in their attire and the set up. Baloch’s voice is heard towards the end of the video.
The video also tries to bring together the Pakistani and Indian communities – by shooting first in Flushing, Queens, and then Coney Island, Brooklyn – home to the two diasporic communities, respectively.
The Swet Shop Boys are known for employing satire to voice their opposition to the prejudice against and the cultural appropriation of South Asians and their culture in the West.