Muslim roles in Western films: Absent, distorted, insulted

By Merve Berker


ANKARA (AA): Although nearly a quarter of the world’s population is Muslim, their representation in key cinema markets is a paltry 1.6%, and their roles are often distorted in dangerous and insulting ways, according to a groundbreaking new study.

The 200 most popular films produced in 2017-2019 in the US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand were examined by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative of the University of Southern California in the report “Missing & Maligned: The Reality of Muslims in Popular Global Movies,” the researchers said in a statement on Friday.

According to the research, Muslim characters got 5.6% of the screen time in Australian films. While the US and the UK both gave 1.1%, New Zealand – the site of a horrific massacre of 51 Muslims in March 2019 – did not include a single Muslim in any of their movies produced over a three-year period.

Muslim women on screen

When it comes to the on-screen presence of Muslim women, the UK had the highest rate, with 36.7%, followed by the US (25.5%), Australia (15.9%), and New Zealand (0%).

The overall percentage of on-screen Muslim female representation was found to be 23.6%, with men taking 76.4% of the roles.

“This is a ratio of 3.2 male Muslim characters to every 1 female Muslim character,” said the study.

The study also found that “90.5% of 200 films did not feature even one Muslim speaking character,” or 181 films out of a total of 200.

How Muslims are represented

On the ways Muslims are represented in those films, the researchers said they are racially profiled, as unlike other religious or ethnic identities, “Muslim characters are linked to violence.”

Strikingly, it said: “19% of Muslim primary and secondary characters died by the end of the film. Five of eight died by violent means.”

In the films examined, the researchers also found that modern-day Muslim characters are rare.

It explained: “73.1% of the Muslim characters shown in present-day contexts appeared in just two films. Five of six lead Muslim characters were shown in films set in the past.”

In terms of the Muslim representation in different film genres, the study said: “Young audiences will find few Muslim characters in film.”

“Of 23 animated films, not one depicted a Muslim character. Across 8,965 speaking characters in 200 top films, only 7 were Muslim children.”

Diversity missing, disparagement present

Moreover, according to the study, the Muslim characters portrayed did not reflect a diverse community.

“Out of 200 films and 8,965 characters, one Muslim man was LGBTQ. One Muslim man was depicted with a disability out of 200 films and 8,965 characters,” the report indicated.

Films portray Muslims as “foreign,” according to the study’s findings. “Of 41 primary and secondary Muslim characters, 58.5% were immigrants, migrants or refugees, 87.8% spoke no English or spoke with an accent, and 75.6% wore clothes related to their faith.”

Researchers said their examination of 200 globally popular films found that Muslim characters “are still shown as subservient.”

“Muslim women were primarily shown as romantic partners and family members. Muslim characters were depicted in secondary roles that served white leads,” said the study.

“Disparagement is directed at Muslim characters,” the report said, cataloging a list of abusive words and phrases directed at or about Muslim characters, including insults related to language ability, class, and disease, slurs, and assumptions of links to terrorists.

[Image form Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study]

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