Why Riz Ahmed's short film on Islamophobia is a call to action
There's always an older cousin somewhere trying to hang up sari material with tape, that will probably damage the wall. Furniture being moved around to make space for guests and parents bickering about what looks good where.
Riz Ahmed's debut short film began like this. The familiarity found in the small details was comforting to watch. And then reality hit.
A part of the Emmy-winning actor's conceptual album, The Long Goodbye, is a short film directed by Aneil Karia. In the wake of Brexit and the rising toll of Islamophobia, it's about how "Britain's broken up with me," says Ahmed.
Though difficult to not give out any spoilers, a moment that was poignant in the film was when white and non-Muslim people stood behind closed windows and did nothing. One of the actors screamed "fucking help us!" to those who didn't react.
It spoke of the silence Muslims are faced with when encountering macro and micro-aggressions alike and of the rising global Islamophobia across the globe. Whether that's between colleagues, your new partner's family or the racism encountered online.
|It spoke of the silence Muslims are faced with when encountering macro and micro-aggressions alike and of the rising global Islamophobia across the globe|
The We Present's support feature echoed the sentiment that it wasn't just white supremacy that's the issue but also being in proximity to racial privilege i.e. allowing anti-Islamic rhetoric spelt across continents to be the norm, be it the Rohingya attacks in Myanmar, the imprisonment of Uighur Muslims in China and the extremism faced by Muslims in India by Hindu nationalists.
In addition to this, the South Asian families in the film aren't explicitly said to be Muslim, mirroring how in real life, Islamophobia affects also those who 'look Muslim'.
The Long Goodbye is a call to action that it's not enough to ignore Islamophobic intentions and actions – we've been doing enough of that – but a call out to be anti-Islamophobic.
The album and short film are advertised as the end of a "toxic, abusive relationship" with Britain and the aftermath of its colonial history.
The rap at the end of the ten-minute long video speaks up for the black, brown and non-white diaspora across the world. The separation and spread of different communities of colour due to the desires of the Empire.
"Did they ask you where you're from/ Where you really from?/ The question seems simple / But the answers kinda long/ I could tell them Wembley but I don't think that's what they want/ And I don't want to tell them anymore cause everything I say is wrong.
"And my ancestors Indian but India was not for us/ My people built the West, we even gave the skinheads swastikas/ Now everybody everywhere want their country back/ If you want me back to where I'm from then bruv I need a map."
When speaking with the BBC, Riz Ahmed said this first album under his full name (as opposed to his former artist name Riz MC) and short film was "personal, not political." But through The Long Goodbye, clearly the artist is aptly aware that in 2020, the personal is political.
"I want people to know what this feels like. People who haven't really, maybe, understood how it feels, I want [them] to step into this feeling of heartbreak that a lot of us feel right now."
|We have to make sure we call out and reprimand Islamophobia and racism instead of making every conversation around racism a game of discourse – of who is being called Islamophobic and racist|
Yet the BBC also asked the tone-deaf question of if Ahmed feels as though the word British still suffices.
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"Of course, I describe myself as British," he replies.
"If I'm not British, who is?" And that's the issue right there – questioning someone's loyalty to British values because they call out Islamophobia and point out how British things like tea aren't actually that British.
"This is what happens when we're only educated on Britain's prizes without knowing the cost for such accolades and the ties in which families of immigrants have to 'Great Britain.'"
The Long Goodbye has struck a nerve. A trigger. All because it's something that wouldn't be a surprise to see and experience in real life. It is a short film that is parallel to Martin Niemöller's poem, First They Came on the experience of anti-Semitism during the rise of nazism.
We have to make sure we call out and reprimand Islamophobia and racism instead of making every conversation around racism a game of discourse – of who is being called Islamophobic and racist.
Just like what happened to Labour MP Dawn Butler only a few days ago when Conservative MP Laura Trott was offended by the idea that the Tory narrative was in any way racist.
There isn't time to centre those who aren't being affected as it's crucial we keep Muslim communities safe so The Long Goodbye doesn't play out in real life.
We can continue to make art, while also changing the present path is heading.
Tahmina Begum is a freelance journalist and editor.
Follow her on Twitter @tahminaxbegum