U.K. Film Charity Set Up to Challenge Muslim Stereotypes on Screen

Sajid Varda
Tara Ziemba / Getty

Sajid Varda

Founded by Brit producer and actor Sajid Varda, U.K. Muslim Film aims to be a port of call for authentic Muslim representation.

A new charity has launched in the U.K. with the aim of challenging Muslim stereotypes on screen.

U.K. Muslim Film, which launched Wednesday at a British Film Institute event, was founded by Brit actor and producer Sajid Varda in response to what he said were years working within the industry both in front of and behind the camera and "realising that Muslims need to be represented at all levels, in writer’s rooms and as commissioners."

The charity will focus on advising the entertainment industry on how to better represent Muslims on screen, while also helping "support, nurture and fund projects" from emerging storytellers and be a port of call for authentic Muslim representation.

"The lack of representation also impacts the types of stories that are told leading to more content based on negative stereotypes which impacts Muslims adversely on a daily basis," said Varda, who is known as the first Muslim character on the long-running BBC teen drama Byker Grove, covering a groundbreaking storyline around racism.

"There are many talented Muslim creatives from the Muslim community and from other underrepresented groups that find it hard to get a foothold into the industry. We want to change this.  Our aim is to encourage greater understanding and engagement between the Muslim and wider community, finding what connects us, and to advise the industry on better authenticity in productions."

Varda, who says he was galvanized to change the industry after an experience making the 2015 multi-award-winning comedy short film The Chop, pointed to the recent hits such as Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians and with Netflix's Bridgerton as evidence that audiences were demanding diverse stories.

"It makes commercial sense to invest in representative characters," he said, thanking both the BFI for "being at the forefront of bringing greater change within the industry" and the creators of the Riz Test, the five-point criteria test about Muslim portrayal on screen that inspired by a 2017 speech by Riz Ahmed at the House of Commons.

"What we do in the screen industry matters. Imagery is persuasive," added the BFI’s head of inclusion, Jen Smith. "We are committed to supporting organizations that are helping to diversify what we see on screen and who gets to tell their stories By expanding our industry to be more inclusive to Muslims and exploring intersectionality within Muslim communities we get to tap into more audience growth and global markets as well as a richness of creativity."