Film Forward

Riz Ahmed Inspired A Grading System That Shows How Often Muslims Are Misrepresented In Film

"Presented as irrationally angry?"

The ways we watch TV and movies have evolved, and it's time for the talent in front of and behind the camera to do the same. Film Forward speaks on the initiatives to diversify the film industry and the stories it tells. New articles premiere every second Thursday of — and throughout — the month.

The need for diversity in film and television is no secret in Hollywood, and a new measurement of Muslim representation is trying to eliminate stereotypes and push for realistic portrayals.

The Riz Test — created by Shaf Choudry, Isobel Ingham-Barrow, and Dr. Sadia Habib — is inspired by similar measurements like the Bechdel Test for female representation, the Vito Russo Test for LGBTQ representation, and the Maisy Test, which measures sexism in children's programming.  

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Inspiration for the test's namesake came from Riz Ahmed, the British-Pakistani actor best known for his work in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and The Night Of. In 2017, Ahmed discussed the importance of more diversity in TV and movies during a speech at the British House of Commons

The criteria for measuring whether or not a film or television show passes the Riz Test comes down to five questions

1. If there's an identifiable Muslim character — based on either their ethnicity, their clothing, or language they speak — do they talk about, are the victim of, or a perpetrator of Islamist terrorism? 

2. Are they shown as being "irrationally angry"? 

3. Is the character anti-modern, culturally backwards, or superstitious? 

4. Do they get presented as a threat to the Western way of life? 

5. When it comes to the gender of the Muslim character, is a male character presented as being misogynistic? Does a female character get presented as someone who is oppressed by males?

Few films pass the Riz Test, especially post-9/11 films set in Muslim countries such as American Sniper and Zero Dark Thirty. The same can be said for older films Back to the Future and Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark. Meanwhile, TV shows such as Community and Mr. Robot have passed the test because the Muslim characters on each show go beyond stereotypes.

The Riz Test comes at a time where people are demanding to see characters of color be presented in a complex light like their White counterparts in film and television. For Habib, it's important to try and bring attention to this sooner rather than later.

"Images of Muslims as backward and barbaric have existed for a long time — and they continue to persist," she said to Vice. We feel that it's important to challenge this because otherwise, they will continue to persist." 

Since the Riz Test's launch this year, it's received positive feedback from people who want to see the portrayal of Muslims on television and film to change.

It even caught Ahmed's attention last month.

Looking ahead to what the Riz Test will become in the future, the founders told Vice that they hope to serve as a resource for people to see how well some movies and TV shows pass the test, and how badly others fail it in order to make a lasting change in the entertainment industry. 

Cover image: Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com

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