Actor Riz Ahmed opened up race and typecasting in life and in film and on TV in a piece titled "Typecast as a Terrorist," which ran today in The Guardian newspaper's online site.
"The Night Of" star, who also appears in "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," out later this year, describes the three stages to get to a place where "you play a character whose story is not intrinsically linked to his race."
"There [in stage three], I am not a terror suspect, nor a victim of forced marriage," he writes.
Ahmed's first major film was 2006's "The Road to Guantánamo," which won awards, and "for those who saw it, the inmates went from orange jumpsuits to human beings. But airport security did not get the memo."
The actor tells a story of harassment and threats on his trip back from a festival that had just shown the film.
"I went on to write a song inspired by the incident, titled 'Post 9/11 Blues,'" he continues. "The song got the attention of Chris Morris, who cast me in 'Four Lions.'"
The incident helped him move to what he calls "stage two," where the stereotypes began to loosen. But, he writes, he had to leave Britain and go to America to hopefully attain stage three.
"The reality of Britain is vibrant multiculturalism, but the myth we export is an all-white world of lords and ladies," he writes. "So America was where I headed. But it would not be an easy journey."
The trip once again landed him in an airport detainment room, he writes.
"The holding pen was filled with 20 slight variations of my own face, all staring at me -- kind of like a Bollywood remake of 'Being John Malkovich,'" he writes. "It was a reminder: you are a type, whose face says things before your mouth opens; you are a signifier before you are a person; you are back at stage one."
As Ahmed has found success in film and on TV, he sees himself "inching towards" stage three. "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. But this isn’t a success story. I see most of my fellow Malkoviches still arched back, spines bent to snapping as they try to limbo under that rope."
He adds: "Don’t get me wrong: although my U.S. airport experience is smoother, I still get stopped before boarding a plane at Heathrow every time I fly to the U.S. But now I find it hilarious rather than bruising."
"... The last kid who searched me, a young Muslim boy with an immaculate line-beard and goatee, was particularly apologetic," he continues. "'Sorry bro,'" he recalls the boy saying. "'If it makes you feel any better, they search me before I fly too.'
"We laughed, not because he was joking, but because he was deadly serious."
"Typecast as a Terrorist" is part of a collection of essays in a book called "The Good Immigrant."