Born to Pakistani immigrants in the northwest London enclave of Wembley, Rizwan Ahmed is a mega accomplished actor, hip-hop artist and activist. As the New York Times says, “He is like someone who wants to speak truth to power but now is power — famous enough, at least, to have people listen to his ideas.”
Riz broke out in off-beat co-starring roles in such films as “Nightcrawler,” “Rogue One,” and “Jason Bourne.” He won an Emmy for starring in the HBO limited series “The Night Of” in which, according to the Times, he “mesmerized audiences with his evolution from delicate naïveté to delicate violence without ever seeming to change the expression on his face.” He is also one half of the hip-hop duo Swet Shop Boys plus a very effective activist (see his campaign to raise money for Syrian refugee).
Journalist Carvell Wallace recently did an in-depth profile on Riz for the New York Times magazine section, and here are some highlights:
— Ahmed was 18 years old on 9/11, and he saw it change everything for his community. “In the ’80s we were called black, at least politically black. In the ’90s we were ‘Pakis.’ But after 9/11, suddenly we were Muslims.”
— Ahmed has been spending his Sundays in one-on-one study sessions with Navina Haidar, a curator in the Met’s department of Islamic art… “He’s got a great spirit,” remarked Ms. Haidar. “Really, a moral core. And he’s intellectually very active and quite creative, and curious and very dedicated to what he’s doing… It’s been very impressive to see how dedicated [he’s been]… and to have these tutorials and really explore the subject in depth. That commitment, I think, is really inspiring for me as a curator.”
— I asked [Riz] what kind of art he liked the most in the Islamic collection. “I don’t know whether it’s my own weird way of looking at things, but what I really appreciate about lots of miniatures and lots of things like this is, you get a God’s-eye view. You get the schematic.”
— [Riz] had been to Pakistan recently and wanted to show me pictures. He was fascinated by the posters and civic announcements wheat-pasted on city walls, and how their chaos mimicked the art we’d seen at the museum… He told me how he’d felt both at home there and also completely out of place, a true Londoner.
— He has talked about playing James Bond, if for no other reason than the sense of arrival such a casting would represent — an acceptance of the fact that Riz Ahmed, in all his contradictory glory, is in no way a contradiction. He is a human and a Brit and capable of being seen as a hero.