Riz Ahmed has never been afraid of a challenge – he famously learned drumming and sign language for his role in Sound of Metal. But his most fearless performance? Taking on Hollywood…

This summer, Riz Ahmed took aim at Hollywood and the wider film industry. In a speech that was somehow both measured and searingly furious, the British actor called out the “toxic portrayals” of Muslim characters in TV and movies. Using research that he was directly involved in commissioning, Ahmed showed how Muslims, who make up almost a quarter of the world’s population, are either “invisible or villains” in our screen entertainment. He said that this omission resulted not just in “lost audiences” but “lost lives” because of the “dehumanising and demonising” ways that Muslims were often depicted. In fact, Ahmed noted, some of the most prestigious and awards-laden releases of recent years were “frankly racist”: specifically The Hurt Locker and Argo, both of which won best picture at the Oscars, and Marvel’s Black Panther, which earned more than $1bn at the box office.

The speech in June, which launched an initiative called the Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion, was many things: timely, vital and, for some, eye-opening. But mainly, on Ahmed’s part, it felt brave, even risky. Actors typically don’t take potshots at their paymasters, the studios. They almost never single out specific, very successful films for criticism.

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