Riz Ahmed Compares Hollywood Typecasting to Airport Stereotyping
Politics| | By Sara Wilkins
British actor Riz Ahmed has penned a powerful essay detailing his struggle with racial discrimination both onscreen and off in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The Night Of star recounts his experiences for upcoming anthology book, The Good Immigrant, featuring works by British writers from various ethnic backgrounds. In an excerpt published in The Guardian, Ahmed draws parallels between his fight to break free of typecasting in Hollywood and his battle against stereotyping in real life, particularly with airport immigration officials who frequently treat him like a terrorist.
Recalling his first run-in with airport police after the tragedies of September 11, 2001, Ahmed admits he felt “helplessly cornered” as Luton Airport authorities in England quizzed him about his travel intentions, just days after his 2006 drama The Road to Guantanamo was feted at the Berlin Film Festival.
“Returning to the glamour of Luton Airport after our festival win, ironically named British intelligence officers frogmarched me to an unmarked room where they insulted, threatened, and then attacked me,” he recalled.
He eventually relocated to the U.S., but his experiences there were no better, either, as he faced interrogation every time he traveled in and out of the country.
He also had to fight to land acting roles not based on his ethnicity, and he admits the two scenarios are not so different in comparison: “…They involved the experience of being typecast, and when that happens enough, you internalize the role written for you by others. Now, like an over-eager method actor, I was struggling to break character.”
Ahmed has since made a name for himself in Hollywood with his critically-acclaimed roles in Nightcrawler and TV crime drama The Night Of, while he also stars in the upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, but he insists his rise to fame has left a lasting impact on him.
“Now, both at auditions and airports, I find myself on the right side of the same velvet rope by which I was once clothes-lined,” he states, adding, “But this isn’t a success story…
“These days it’s likely that no one resembles me in the waiting room for an acting audition, and the same is true of everyone being waved through with me at US immigration. In both spaces, my exception proves the rule.”