Riz Ahmed, star of HBO miniseries "The Night Of," on Thursday published an essay in The Guardian titled "Typecast as a terrorist," in which he details the tumultuous relationship between his racial identity and his career.
"If the films I re-enacted as a kid could humanise mutants and aliens, maybe there was hope for us. But portrayals of ethnic minorities worked in stages, I realised, so I’d have to strap in for a long ride," Ahmed wrote in an essay published in The Guardian.
Ahmed describes the three "stages" of roles that — as a Pakistani actor — he's relegated to playing: stage one, "the two-dimensional stereotype;" stage two, "the subversive portrayal, taking place on 'ethnic' terrain but aiming to challenge existing stereotypes;" and, finally, stage three, "the Promised Land, where you play a character whose story is not intrinsically linked to his race."
Ahmed said he only found "stage three" roles in Hollywood, not in his native England, because "America uses its stories to export a myth of itself, just like the UK. The reality of Britain is vibrant multiculturalism, but the myth we export is an all-white world of lords and ladies. Conversely, American society is pretty segregated, but the myth it exports is of a racial melting-pot."
Ahmed said he found American audition rooms to be similar to an interrogation room at Luton Airport in London where security officers "insulted, threatened, and then attacked me" in 2006.
"They are places where the threat of rejection is real," he explained. "They are also places where you are reduced to your marketability or threat-level, where the length of your facial hair can be a deal-breaker, where you are seen, and hence see yourself, in reductive labels."
Read the full essay here.