British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed just made history at the 69th Emmy Awards. The British Muslim became the first male actor of Asian descent to take home a highly coveted Emmy Award for acting. Ahmed received the Outstanding Acting In A Limited Series award for his role as Nasir “Naz” Khan on HBO’s “The Night Of.” Prior to Riz’s win, actress Archie Panjabi (also South Asian) had won an Emmy for her role in “The Good Wife” in 2010.
According to the Washington Post: “Ahmed’s win was seen as a long-overdue victory for South Asians and his fellow Muslims. His success is significant not only because of his historic win, but because of the character he portrayed: Naz, a nuanced, relatable college student from Queens — who also happens to be Pakistani. While “The Night Of” tackles issues of race and Islamophobia, Naz’s ethnicity and religion are secondary to the story’s main plot.”
In his powerful acceptance speech, Riz made the point: “It’s always strange reaping the rewards of a story that’s based on real world suffering. But if this show has shown a light on some of the prejudice in our society, Islamophobia, some of the injustice in our justice system, then maybe that’s something.”
Riz’s win wasn’t the only breakthrough of the night for diversity. Aziz Ansari, the son of Muslim Indian immigrants, won the comedy writing award for Netflix’s “Master of None.” He shared this year’s comedy writing award with Lena Waithe, who became the first black woman to win an Emmy for writing on a comedy series.
“It’s a big year for the South Asian community and the Muslim community,” commented Nancy Wang Yuen, an expert on racial barriers in Hollywood.