‘The Night Of’ Star Riz Ahmed Recounts Being ‘Typecast as a Terrorist’

“You are a type, whose face says things before your mouth opens; you are a signifier before you are a person,” he writes in a letter for The Guardian

“The Night Of” star Riz Ahmed penned a letter for The Guardian in which he discusses his experiences being “typecast as a terrorist” at airport security.

Ahmed begins his essay by discussing the ways in which he was typecast growing up — when he was a child and his brother had a knife held to his throat, he was identified as black. Another time he was labeled a “Paki.”

“The next time I found myself as helplessly cornered, it was in a windowless room at Luton airport,” he wrote. “My arm was in a painful wrist-lock and my collar pinned to the wall by British intelligence officers. It was ‘post 9/11,’ and I was now labelled a Muslim.”

One of his first films, Michael Winterbottom‘s “The Road to Guantanamo,” had won a prestigious award at the Berlin Film Festival. The cast was euphoric, but as soon as they got to the Luton airport, the dynamic changed as British intelligence officers insulted, threatened and attacked the actor.

“What kinda film you making? Did you become an actor to further the Muslim struggle?” an officer allegedly screamed at Ahmed while twisting his arm.

Hearing about American society and its reputation as a “racial melting-pot,” he headed to the U.S., but he says he faced the same troubles he had in England. He was placed in interrogation rooms and questioned about his movie while being asked if he knew anyone “who wants to do harm in the United States.”

“It was a reminder: you are a type, whose face says things before your mouth opens; you are a signifier before you are a person; you are back at stage one,” Ahmed wrote.

He was eventually let through, but the typcasting didn’t end there.

“Twice when applying for a U.S. work visa I was subjected to a Section 221G — a lengthy background check against a global database of terrorists — which almost lost me the jobs,” he added.

A big job secured him a U.S. visa, but he still gets stopped before boarding planes.

“Don’t get me wrong: although my US airport experience is smoother, I still get stopped before boarding a plane at Heathrow every time I fly to the U.S.,” he wrote. “But now I find it hilarious rather than bruising.”

See his entire letter here.