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Empowering Muslims to inform their very own tales

(RNS) — This summer season, a study appeared that confirmed what many Muslims already knew — if not with the precision of survey knowledge, then of their bones, their weariness.

Of the highest grossing movies of the years 2017 to 2019, based on the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, fewer than 10% confirmed a Muslim character on display. Fewer than 2% had Muslim characters in talking roles, although about 25% of the world’s inhabitants is Muslim. Multiple-third of the Muslim characters perpetrate violence, and greater than half are targets of violence.

The trope of the inherently violent Muslim, in different phrases, is alive and effectively.

These numbers align with the chorus I’ve heard for years now from Muslims of all backgrounds: “Muslim People are bored with defending themselves.” They’re bored with reacting to stereotypes on movie and TV, and the fixed demand to justify their existence by explaining to individuals who they don’t seem to be.


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Given the enormity of the leisure trade, and given its lengthy historical past of depicting Muslims as violent, the problem is as overwhelming as it’s advanced. Many who see the risks of this drawback have sought to handle it, although an efficient answer has remained elusive.

Now, a couple of teams led by the Pillars Fund have come along with a constellation of Muslim celebrities to usher ahead a promising and progressive effort titled the Pillars Artist Fellowship. This system, additionally backed by the Ford Basis and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, will grant unrestricted money awards of $25,000 and mentorship from main Muslim artists, together with Riz Ahmed, Hasan Minhaj, Nida Manzoor and Mahershala Ali.

Kashif Shaikh. Photograph courtesy of Pillars Fund

“We spoke to creators all around the nation — writers, administrators, storytellers, actors,” stated Kashif Shaikh, co-founder and president of the Pillars Fund, which advances Muslims in management for the social good, “and so they instructed us that one thing like this might transfer the needle over the subsequent a number of years in ensuring that Muslim voices are current within the greatest popular culture phenomena.” 

Only a few months after launch, the fellowship has drawn greater than 600 candidates, in addition to a groundswell of enthusiasm from the broader Muslim group.

“The response has been so overwhelmingly optimistic that it’s nearly embarrassing,” stated Shaikh. “Individuals who aren’t even making use of are telling me how excited they’re, and lots of of those that are making use of have used valuable time of their video submissions to say that even when they don’t obtain the fellowship, they’re grateful to know one thing like this exists.”

The drive of the Pillars Artist Fellowship, although, is not only in its coalescence of high-powered organizations and creatives, nor even its sheer scale. What’s intriguing is the considerate imaginative and prescient: Fairly than merely offering a model-minority counternarrative to the usual conception of Muslims as violent, the fellowship seeks to offer a extra genuine sense of actuality by supporting these artists, makers and thinkers who signify numerous segments of the Muslim group.

I feel it’s actually about reflecting life as it’s, and about with the ability to push of us to comprehend that we’re not truly attending to know Muslim communities if we’re not seeing all of the other ways to be Muslim,stated Arij Mikati, managing director for tradition change on the Pillars Fund. “There are 1.9 billion Muslims on this planet, and there are 1.9 billion methods to be Muslim. That gives a window into the plurality of Islam for individuals who won’t belong to the Muslim group.”

Arij Mikati. Photo courtesy of Pillars Fund

Arij Mikati. Photograph courtesy of Pillars Fund

Rising Muslim expertise will get across the sorts of inclusion that result in tokenization. Fairly than creating a brand new flattened stereotype, and even simply plugging Muslims into extra roles, the Pillars Artist Fellowship seeks to shift the tide by placing energy into the arms of those that can inform genuine Muslim tales.

Genuine doesn’t all the time imply upbeat salesmanship. “The imaginative and prescient of this fellowship is to not create optimistic tales about Muslims. That’s not what we’re occupied with,” Shaikh stated. “The true goal right here is to empower Muslim creators to inform the tales they need to inform, as messy as they’re, as nuanced as they’re.”

A part of the imaginative and prescient for extra numerous illustration of Muslims on display, as Mikati eloquently describes it, is to strengthen the muse of non secular pluralism in a rustic and in a world the place it has been deeply compromised.

“What makes the Muslim group in the USA particular is that it’s the most ethnically numerous and racially numerous religion group within the nation. That gives us an actual alternative to say, ‘If we do that proper, we may very well be a mannequin for what a really pluralistic group could be.’”

Mikati believes that having extra numerous illustration of Muslims in TV and movie is not only a means to assist People higher respect their Muslim neighbors — it will assist Muslims higher perceive each other, too.


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“For these of us who might have extra privileges as Muslims, together with being Sunni, which is a extra privileged denomination, or being Arab, which is the most certainly ethnicity to be seen on display, enhancing numerous illustration of Muslim gives us a window into different methods of being Muslim,” she stated. “We don’t usually get that, and it’s so necessary for us to construct relationships and construct empathy internally, too.”

The Pillars Artist Fellowship is one other in an extended line of makes an attempt to handle the long-standing drawback of Muslim erasure and misrepresentation in standard tradition. But there’s one thing that feels completely different about it, one thing promising, hopeful and affirming.

Like lots of the candidates stated of their video submissions, I’m unsure the way it will prove, however it warms my coronary heart that this program exists.

Actors Ramy Youssef, left, and Mahershala Ali in season 2 of “Ramy.” Photo by Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu

Actors Ramy Youssef, left, and Mahershala Ali in season 2 of “Ramy.” Photograph by Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu

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