It was a big night indeed but even bigger for our beloved Riz Ahmed! I’ve updated the gallery with photos of Riz at the 94th Academy Awards ceremony where he won the award for Best Live Action Short Film for “The Long Goodbye” (The movie is available to stream on YouTube).
2022 > 27 March – 94th Academy Awards – Show
2022 > 27 March – 94th Academy Awards – Press Room
2022 > 27 March – 2022 Vanity Fair Oscar Party
The dirty secret about film industry parties is that they’re rarely fun. Hardly anyone feels like they’re in with the in-crowd. There’s a lot of posturing, peacocking and busying oneself with one’s phone.
The opposite was true at a party to celebrate the achievements of South Asians in this year’s Oscars race on Wednesday night.
Three weeks ago, Maneesh K. Goyal, a New York restaurateur, was talking with Anjula Acharia, who is Priyanka Chopra Jonas’s manager, and Shruti Ganguly, a film producer. “We realized there were 10 Oscar nominees of South Asian descent this year,” Mr. Goyal said. “My immediate response: ‘We should throw a party.’”
Ms. Chopra Jonas signed on as a host, and so did Mindy Kaling, Kumail Nanjiani and Bela Bajaria, the head of global TV at Netflix. The United Talent Agency offered its Beverly Hills offices.
No beige carpeting here: Around 5 p.m., guests filtered into an airy courtyard with a gazebo decked out in gold streamers. They were proud to be in one another’s presence. “To have this depth of talent, to have enough nominees to throw a party, this was not the case five years ago,” Ms. Bajaria said. “It’s not just writers, directors and on-screen talent. There are agents, assistants and executives” — like herself — “who have green-light authority.” [More at Source]
Riz Ahmed is running late. The London-based actor is in New York in mid-September for meetings, interviews, photo shoots, and fittings. He got stuck in traffic, and then he realized he forgot the key to his Airbnb. “This is what really productive people do,” he jokes as he settles behind a table for our chat via Zoom, about an hour after the appointed time. “That’s actually one of the secrets I want to share with your readers.”
Whatever system Ahmed has or doesn’t have in place, it’s working. Since his Oscar-nominated performance as a drummer who loses his hearing in the 2020 film Sound of Metal, Ahmed’s agenda has been packed with a dizzying array of projects. He released an album, The Long Goodbye, on his own imprint, Mongrel Records. He cowrote, produced, and starred in Mogul Mowgli, a film about a British Pakistani rapper who grapples with identity issues while confronting a debilitating illness. He’s tackling the role of Hamlet in a film adaptation written by an Oxford classmate. On December 3, he stars in the film Encounter as a Marine saving his family from an apparent alien threat. (It comes out on Prime Video December 10.)
He has also emerged as Hollywood’s busiest and most visible Muslim actor, and one of a small number of Muslim performers tapped to play characters whose ethnicity and faith aren’t even remarked on. He knows that he’s in a rare position within the entertainment business, and any business, for that matter, and he’s taking the responsibility seriously. Over the past year, Ahmed has become the industry’s leading advocate for expanding Muslim representation in media, both on and off the screen.
It is a daunting task. Twenty years after the September 11 attacks, bias and discrimination against Muslims persists. In the months following former president Donald Trump’s executive order banning travel from predominantly Muslim countries, nearly half of Muslims in the U.S. surveyed by the Pew Research Center said they’d experienced discrimination because of their religion. Pew research also shows that Americans consistently give negative “ratings” to Muslims (and atheists) when polled about their sentiments on faith. [More at Source]
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.
“If you’re going to say something, say it, I guess, right?” says Ahmed today. “I’m not trying to attack anyone personally, it’s just about trying to call out a collective blind spot. So am I worried it would have a knockback on my career? I dunno…”
Ahmed pauses, starts again. “You know, this is all just a bonus,” he goes on. “I never expected I’d be able to have a career. They haven’t noticed I’ve snuck in. They are going to throw me out any minute. It’s probably that kind of thing. Nick all the sweets while you can. Trash the place. Tell them whatever you want. Maybe there’s some of that going on.”
He won’t say it himself, but right now Ahmed has the run of the sweet shop. After years of sustained excellence, working his way up through acclaimed indies such as Chris Morris’s Four Lions and the Reluctant Fundamentalist, then smaller parts in Hollywood spectaculars (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Venom), 2021 was the year that Ahmed landed centre stage. In April, he was nominated for a best actor Oscar for his performance in Sound of Metal as Ruben, a heavy-metal drummer who loses his hearing. He didn’t win, but the fact that he was the first Muslim ever to be nominated in that category started a debate that Ahmed has taken on. This month, he became the youngest recipient of the Richard Harris Award, the highest honour from Bifa (the British Independent Film Awards). In the citation, it praised “his outstanding work, both on-screen and off”. [More at Source]
On 1 April 2020, nine days into the first Covid lockdown, Rizwan Ahmed was staring back at me over a WhatsApp video call. Across subsequent months, surrealism would become the new normal for us all. But for me personally this was where the madness began: a candid conversation with a star whose voice I first discovered nearly 15 years ago, as a wide-eyed teenager picking up RWD magazine. Riz MC was featured in the “About To Blow” talent-spotting section.
“Sometimes people talk about growth as something that you don’t invite, right? Sometimes growth just slaps you in the face. And I feel like that’s what it was for me,” Ahmed poses now, 18 months on, reflecting on his personal journey since the start of the pandemic. He is wearing a striped green collarless shirt and glasses. We’re poolside, facing each other across a small table, eating brunch beneath a clear blue West London sky on the roof of White City House. Ahmed’s answers are philosophically demanding but therefore rewarding, like sitting with your favourite professor during office hours. Yet between thoughts he pauses seamlessly to make in-the-moment observations: excitement at the colourful dragonfly that zips past us; polite inquisitiveness about whether his vegetarian breakfast will come with avocado. “I was pedalling so hard that sometimes I didn’t look up to see where I was heading. So that enforced me to stop, sit with myself, think about what really matters… It was difficult in many ways, but I am also strangely grateful for it. It gave me clarity.” After everything, he seems happy to be here.
In the spring of 2020, Ahmed’s album, The Long Goodbye, and its accompanying short film were released to critical acclaim. Months later came the UK release of Mogul Mowgli, a collaboration between Pulse Films and Ahmed’s production company, Left Handed Films. The feature film, which he cowrote with his friend director Bassam Tariq, drawing from their life experiences, traces the paralysing demise of rapper Zed as he navigates illness and a premature career halt. “It’s basically a pandemic movie: a workaholic gets hit with a health crisis; his life is thrown into a lockdown. He has to sit with himself, reassess what really matters,” Ahmed explains, noting the film’s atmospheric parallels with the timing of the real world. “I always find the making of a film, the telling of a story and the story itself, end up mirroring each other. Always. It’s like the lesson you need to learn, in your life, in that moment, the character teaches it to you. The story is taking you on that journey that you need to go on.” [More at Source]