A new study by the University of Southern California (USC) Annenberg Inclusion Initiative revealed on Wednesday that most top TV shows have either erased Muslim characters or stereotyped them as extremists.
“Muslims make up 25% of the world’s population yet were only 1.1% of characters in popular television series,” said AI2’s Al-Baab Khan, lead author of the study, The Hollywood Reporter reported.
“Not only is this radical erasure an insult, it has the potential to create real-world injury for audiences, particularly Muslims who may be the victims of prejudice, discrimination and even violence.”
The study titled, Erased or Extremists: The Stereotypical View of Muslims in Popular Episodic Series, was conducted with support from Riz Ahmed and his banner Left Handed Films, the Ford Foundation, and the Pillars Fund.
The report looked at the 200 top-rated television series from 2018 and 2019 that aired in the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand and revealed that Muslim actors are largely absent from pop culture TV shows.
Apart from the numbers deficit, the majority of the Muslim characters were depicted as adult Middle Eastern or North African [MENA] men, despite the fact that Muslims are the most racially and ethnically diverse religious group in the world.
These characters were also linked to violent acts and behavior. Over 30% of the 98 Muslim characters were perpetrators of violence, while nearly 40% were targets of such attacks. Less than one-third were portrayed as native English speakers, underscoring depictions of Muslims as “foreigners.”
“For Muslims, this sends a message that they don’t belong or don’t matter,” said Riz Ahmed of the production company Left Handed Films, in a statement. “For other people, we risk normalizing fear, bigotry and stigmatization against Muslims.”
The study also showed that Muslim women were often depicted as “fearful and submissive to their male counterparts.”
“Networks and streaming services need to embrace their responsibility to ensure Muslims of all backgrounds see themselves reflected in our favorite TV shows,” said Ahmed.
“And they would be wise to embrace this gigantic opportunity to reach and connect with an underserved global audience – not just as part of a passing diversity fad but as a decisive shift toward inclusive story-telling.”
Earlier in June 2021, Riz Ahmed launched a new initiative to combat Hollywood’s stereotypical and “toxic” portrayal of Muslim community, saying “The Islamophobia industry is one that measures its cost in blood.”
His initiative came alongside the release of The Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion, co-published by his production company Left Handed Films with the Pillars Fund, and a research study by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, titled Missing & Maligned: The Reality of Muslims in Popular Global Movies.
USC’s researchers examined 200 popular films from the US, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand from 2017 to 2019. They found that only six of them had a Muslim in a co-leading role, and only one of those was female. Of the nearly 9,000 speaking parts, fewer than two percent were Muslim. And there none in animated movies.