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Muslim Characters Are “Missing and Maligned” in Popular Global Movies, Study Finds

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The USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative has released its first-ever study on Muslim representation. Dr. Stacy L. Smith and Co. investigated the prevalence and portrayals of Muslim characters across 200 top-grossing films released between 2017 and 2019, across an international sample. “The research showed that Muslim characters were erased in popular movies, that portrayals lack intersectional inclusion, and that Muslims still face stereotyping on screen,” a press release details.

Titled “Missing & Maligned: The Reality of Muslims in Popular Global Movies,” the quantitative and qualitative report “reveals erasure and demeaning portrayals of Muslim characters.” Muslims rarely appear on-screen: less than two percent of more than 8,500 speaking characters across the films examined were Muslim. When Muslim characters are represented, the community is stereotyped “as outsiders, threatening, and as subservient, particularly to white characters.” Roughly one-third of Muslim characters are depicted as perpetrators of violence, and more than half are targets of violence.

The study found that the majority of Muslim characters were boys and men (76.4%) while 23.6% of all Muslim characters were girls and women.

“More than half of the primary and secondary Muslim characters in these films were immigrants, migrants, or refugees, which along with other findings in the study consistently rendered Muslims as ‘foreign,’” said Al-Baab Khan, one of the study authors. “Muslims live all over the world, but film audiences only see a narrow portrait of this community, rather than viewing Muslims as they are: business owners, friends and neighbors whose presence is part of modern life. By presenting Muslims in an abundance of storylines, audiences can see and resonate with the innumerable experiences of Muslims from all walks of life.”

Oscar-nominated “Sound of Metal” actor Riz Ahmed, who supported the study, emphasized that big screen depictions of Muslims have real-world consequences. “The representation of Muslims on screen feeds the policies that get enacted, the people that get killed, the countries that get invaded,” he explained. “The data doesn’t lie. This study shows us the scale of the problem in popular film, and its cost is measured in lost potential and lost lives.”

In response to “Missing & Maligned: The Reality of Muslims in Popular Global Movies’” findings, the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative has joined a coalition of partners spearheaded by Pillars Fund to create The Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion. Containing short, medium, and long-term solutions for change, concrete recommendations, and practical resources, The Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion can be read in full here.

In partnership with Ahmed and Left Handed Films, Pillars Fund is also launching a new fellowship that “seeks to transform the cultural landscape by creating opportunities for Muslim storytellers.” More information about the fellowship for  Muslim artists in the  U.S. and U.K. at the early stage of their career can be found here. 

You can check out “Missing & Maligned: The Reality of Muslims in Popular Global Movies” here.

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