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Riz Ahmed Pens Powerful Essay On Being Typecast As A Terrorist

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Photo: Jonathan Hordle/REX/Shutterstock.
Riz Ahmed, best known for his recent role as Nasir Khan on HBO's The Night Of, penned a moving essay about his career as an actor in The Guardian. He writes with emotion, eloquence, and purpose, with hopes of making the public understand the specific difficulties he's faced as a minority in Hollywood.

Ahmed writes that there are three stages to overcoming the terrorist typecast that is quickly thrust upon him. Ahmed uses the analogy of heavily-jewelled necklace to illustrate the suffocating strains and oppression he experiences in each stage. In phase one, the metaphorical necklace strangles him. In phase two it loosens, but continues to brand him a terrorist. "The jewellery of your struggles is forever on loan, like the Koh-i-Noor diamond in the crown jewels," he writes. "You are intermittently handed a necklace of labels to hang around your neck, neither of your choosing nor making, both constricting and decorative. Part of the reason I became an actor was the promise that I might be able to help stretch these necklaces, and that the teenage version of myself might breathe a little easier as a result." He fears he can never take it off. In stage three, he would be free of the necklace, and considered for roles where his name is "Dave," an average guy, instead of say, Nasir, a threatening Pakistani-American.

However, regardless of his professional notability and how close he gets to stage three, he is still constantly targeted as a threatening figure in our post 9/11 world. The anecdotes he writes about his experiences while traveling both domestically in the United States and between London and New York would be funny if they weren't so stereotypically racist. He especially notes the movie-like irony during his security pat downs. "I have had my films quoted back at me by someone rifling through my underpants, and been asked for selfies by someone swabbing me for explosives" he writes. Another time he said he was illegally detained in the airport on his way to film The Road To Guantรกnamo, a movie about a group of friends who are illegally held and tortured at the detainment camp.

The 33-year-old does feel a bit of a shift, saying that he feels as though he's "on the right side of the same velvet rope by which I was once clothes-lined." But now that Ahmed's "on the right side" he sees no one like himself in the waiting rooms with him, proving that "In both spaces, my exception proves the rule."

Read the rest of Ahmed's powerful essay here.
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