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Riz Ahmed Becomes the First Muslim to win an Acting Emmy

We have to confess, we did not stay up to watch the Emmys last night. For some reason, the nature of award shows has this weird effect on us, as if watching them serves only to reminds us of stuff we care not to think about: like how we’re not super talented, not mad rich, and not really famous.

But even if we didn’t tune in, we still paid attention to what went down, mainly because Riz Ahmed, one of our favourite actors, was nominated for his role in The Night Of. And guess what? He won.

This isn’t really that amazing, because we all know how excellent an actor Riz is. The reason we’re telling you is because the Wembley boy’s gong for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie (breathe) makes him the first Muslim to take home an Emmy for acting.

Riz plays Nasir “Naz” Khan in the HBO drama, which charts the controversial legal case that ensues when Khan is accused of murdering a girl on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. It’s a gripping show, and Riz is a standout in an altogether incredible cast. Here’s a clip of his speech that was uploaded by an industrious Twitter user:

Riz has always been vocal about the importance of diversity in the arts. In a speech to Parliament earlier this year, he argued that a lack of representation on TV can lead some vulnerable people to fringe narratives online, where they’re susceptible to radicalisation.

It’s a valid point. It can be hard to identify with telly when the big-hitters of British drama make it seem as if the country is still living in stately homes and chowing down on swans. It’s why Riz himself has achieved much of his success in America.

During the press conference, Riz answered questions about the impact his win could have on media diversity:

‘I don’t know if one person’s win of an award, one person snagging one role, or one person doing very well, changes something that’s a systemic issue of inclusion in this industry…I think that’s something that happens slowly, over time. If there’s enough isolated examples of success then maybe the dots start joining up and it’s not as slow a process as it sometimes is.’

Given that this year’s Emmys featured four people of colour winning acting awards, it seems as if this process is speeding up.

Congrats to Riz. We hope his win paves the path to success for more Muslim actors.

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