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Arts and Entertainment

Muslims Are Missing From Movies — Except When Violence Is Involved

Hotel Mumbai
Dev Patel in "Hotel Mumbai," the film about the Nov. 2008 terror attacks in that city.
(Kerry Monteen
/
Allstar/Screen Australia)
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Muslims account for nearly one-quarter of the world’s population, but when it comes to how they’re depicted in movies, they’re almost totally invisible — except when they’re tied to violence, according to a new study.

The USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative examined the 200 most popular films from 2017 to 2019 in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. Out of nearly 9,000 speaking roles in those movies, fewer than 2% of the characters were Muslim, researchers found.

"The representation of Muslims on screen feeds the policies that get enacted, the people that get killed, the countries that get invaded."
— Actor Riz Ahmed

The few Muslim characters who had at least one line of dialogue were found in just a handful of releases; 181 of the movies studied did not have a single speaking role for a Muslim.

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In almost all of the films that did, the Islamic characters were either targets or perpetrators of violence. One out of five was killed off by the movie’s end.

Muslim characters also were invariably immigrants, wore clothing representing their faith and either didn’t speak English or spoke with an accent.

Muslim characters were wholly absent from 23 animated films in the period studied, and Islamic children and women went missing from most live-action productions.

Even though Muslims are racially, ethnically and geographically diverse, more than two-thirds of those with speaking movie roles were Middle Eastern or North African.

One of the study’s sponsors was “Sound of Metal” actor Riz Ahmed, who said in a statement, “The representation of Muslims on screen feeds the policies that get enacted, the people that get killed, the countries that get invaded.”