Riz Ahmed: Lack of TV Diversity Could Steer Youth Toward ISIS

"If we fail to represent, we are in danger of losing people to extremism," 'Rogue One' actor warned during Channel 4 lecture

During a Channel 4 lecture, 'Rogue One' actor Riz Ahmed argued that lack of TV diversity could steer minority youth toward ISIS. Credit: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic/Getty

Riz Ahmed warned British Parliament that a lack of television diversity could drive young people toward extremist beliefs, the Guardian reports. The British-Pakistani actor, who recently starred in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and HBO's Girlsspoke about the rise in race-related hate crimes in the United Kingdom after last year's Brexit decision.

"In the mind of the ISIS recruit, he's the next James Bond, right?" Ahmed said, pointing to the action film-like quality of ISIS propaganda materials as one way extremist groups target disenfranchised youth. 

"They are cut like action movies," said the actor. "Where is the counter-narrative? Where are we telling these kids they can be heroes in our stories, that they [are] valued? People are looking for the message that they belong, that they are part of something, that they are seen and heard and that despite, or perhaps because of, their experience, they are valued. They want to feel represented. In that task, we have failed."

Ahmed said that British television in particular needs to include more roles for different types of actors. "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.'" The 34-year-old said that in order to find acting work, he had to move to America. 

"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. We are going to see the murder of more MPs like Jo Cox because we've been mis-sold a story that is so narrow about who we are and who we should be."