Riz Ahmed makes history as first Muslim best actor nominee at the 93rd Academy Awards

By:
Roshni Rakshit (@roshni_rakshit)

The most prestigious awards in the entertainment industry,  The Academy Awards, also known as The Oscars, announced their 2021 nominations last week. 

The Oscars announced the most racially diverse slate of nominees that they have ever had, with British actor Riz Ahmed becoming the first Muslim to be nominated in the category for Best Actor. 

The Sound of Metal actor bagged the nomination for playing a rock drummer named Ruben who loses his hearing. 

An actor of immense calibre, Ahmed’s process of playing the character of Ruben was marked by utmost intensity and grit. He spent eight months preparing for the role, dedicating hours to practicing drums and learning American Sign Language. 

He told USA Today about how he wore auditory blockers deep inside his ear canal that emitted white noise, in scenes of the movie where his character Ruben is struggling to reconcile with his hearing loss. 

“I couldn’t hear anything, including the sound of my voice,” Riz mentioned in his interview.

Soon, Riz let go of the hearing aids and immersed himself in deaf culture, carefully studying how deaf people communicate. And what came about was a career-defining performance that brought home for Riz, an Oscar nomination.

In 2017, Ahmed also became the first Muslim and the first Asian to win an Emmy award for his performance in the limited series The Night Of. 

Along with Riz, actor Steven Yeun got nominated in the same category for his performance in the film Minari, making it the first time that two Asian actors got nominated for the Lead Actor Award in the same year. 

Earlier in 2017, actor Mahershala Ali became the first Muslim to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Moonlight, and once again in 2019, for his performance in Green Book.

But the significance of Riz Ahmed and Steven Yeun’s Oscar nominations is bigger than their performances. It is a beacon of possible change, and of inclusivity in the entertainment industry which is largely dominated by white actors. 

In 2015, April Reign, a campaign finance lawyer created the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite after the Academy awarded all 20 acting nominations to White actors. The same thing happened the following year despite the attempts to call attention to the lack of diversity.

Rigorous efforts have been made since the #OscarsSoWhite movement in 2015, to create a much diverse selection board, so that racialized actors can also receive their flowers. 

Thankfully, the result is that actors like Ahmed, Ali and Yeun are gaining well-deserved recognition for their art. 

This year, across various categories, artists of colour have been nominated, making it the most diverse Oscars slate of nominees ever. 

The fact that the Academy Award is 93 years old, and yet we are witnessing the diversity in 2021, speaks a lot about how significantly biased and white-dominated the Awards have been.

 It is important to have more continued conversations around race and recognition given to artists of colour to make progress with the issue of diversity in the entertainment industry. And most importantly, to hope and continue to raise voices and implement changes to ensure that this is just the first of all diverse nominations at the Academy Awards. 

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About the author: Roshni is a self-proclaimed Comedy Queen who specializes in laughing at her own jokes. Her hobbies include making people smile, watching movies and analysing them, reading books, practicing yoga (occasionally), hogging on well-cooked biryani and scrolling through dog videos and memes on Instagram. Her love for writing stems from her love for art in general, which is fuelled by her background in theatre. Catch on her instagram at @roshni_rakshit daily, where she regularly shares her experience with movies and occasionally offends people with her political sense of humour.

5X Press is a forum for opinions, conversations, & experiences, powered by South Asian youth. The views expressed here are not representative of those of 5X Festival.

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