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Riz Ahmed, who saw his international star soar in 2016 thanks to major roles in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Jason Bourne and HBO’s The Night Of, has warned that a lack of diverse voices and stories on British TV screens could push those from minority backgrounds towards fringe groups and even extremism.
Delivering the annual diversity lecture from U.K. network Channel 4 in British Parliament, the actor – who has used his growing celebrity status to eloquently highlight issues concerning race and racial profiling – said that U.K. TV had so far “failed” to ensure groups felt represented.
“If we fail to represent, we are in danger of losing people to extremism,” he said, adding it would lead those from minority backgrounds to “switch off and retreat to fringe narratives, to bubbles online and sometimes even off to Syria.”
Echoing the lecture given by Idris Elba last year, Ahmed said that actors from diverse backgrounds were forced to head across the Atlantic to find decent roles.
“We end up going to America to find work. I meet with producers and directors here, and they say ‘we don’t have anything for you, all our stories are set in Cornwall in the 1600s’.”
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter last year, the actor expressed his own desire to directly address the situation, saying he was planning a series about three generations of a British-Pakistani family, which he would direct himself.
“If we don’t step up and tell a representative story … we are going to start losing British teenagers to the story that the next chapter in their lives is written with ISIS in Syria,” he told Parliament. “We are going to see the murder of more [members of parliament] like Jo Cox because we’ve been mis-sold a story that is so narrow about who we are and who we should be.”
Ahmed’s lecture came the same day the BBC revealed the results of a staff census into diversity, showing that 14.5 percent of its workforce was from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds. The public broadcaster is aiming for this figure to reach 15 percent by 2020.
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