"Muslims make up 25% of the world's population yet were only 1.1% of characters in popular television series," says Al-Baab Khan, the study’s lead author at the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.

"For Muslims, this sends a message that they don't belong or don't matter," says Riz Ahmed of the production company Left Handed Films. (Reuters Archive)

Muslim actors are virtually in the shadows on major TV shows, according to a new study that looked at 200 top-rated TV series in the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand to conclude that Muslim actors are largely absent from pop culture TV shows.

The study was conducted by the University of Southern California (USC) Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and focused on TV programmes that aired between 2018 and 2019.

"Muslims make up 25 percent of the world's population yet were only 1.1 percent of characters in popular television series," said Al-Baab Khan, lead author of the survey.

"Not only is this radical erasure an insult, but it also has the potential to create real-world injury for audiences, particularly Muslims who may be the victims of prejudice, discrimination, and even violence."

The USC study examined nearly 9,000 speaking characters and revealed that the ratio of non-Muslim characters to Muslim ones was 90 to one.

According to the study, 87 percent of the series examined did not feature any Muslim characters and about 8 percent of the programmes had only one Muslim actor.

Muslims stereotyped on screen

The study portrays the "disheartening reality of Muslims on screen."

"For Muslims, this sends a message that they don't belong or don't matter," said Riz Ahmed of the production company Left Handed Films, in a statement. 

"For other people, we risk normalising fear, bigotry and stigmatisation against Muslims."

“TV shows are the stories we bring into our homes," Ahmed continued. 

"They play a big part in shaping how we understand the world, each other, and our place within it. This study reminds us that when it comes to Muslim portrayals, we're still being fed a TV diet of stereotyping and erasure.”

Nearly one-third of the Muslim characters were depicted onscreen as violent offenders and almost 40 percent were targets of violent attacks, the study finds.

About 37.2 percent of Muslim characters were shown as criminals and 15.7 percent worked in law enforcement.

Female characters 

Female Muslim characters were also subjected to stereotypes by being often portrayed without a job compared to their male Muslim counterpart.

More than half of the female Muslim characters have also been shown wearing hijab, while male Muslim characters dress in various clothes.

The study also showed that Muslim women were often depicted as "fearful and submissive to their male counterparts."

"Networks and streaming services need to embrace their responsibility to ensure Muslims of all backgrounds see themselves reflected in our favorite TV shows," said Ahmed. 

"And they would be wise to embrace this gigantic opportunity to reach and connect with an underserved global audience – not just as part of a passing diversity fad but as a decisive shift towards inclusive story-telling."

"The findings in this study reveal how rarely content creators think about including Muslims in popular storytelling – particularly girls and women," said Dr. Stacy L Smith, Founder, USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.

"As a result, viewers would have to watch hours and hours of content before seeing even a single portrayal of a Muslim character – with even more time required to find a portrayal that is not linked to violence or extremism."

Source: AA