First Muslim Best Actor Oscar nominee: 10 of Riz Ahmed's most memorable roles

The British actor has been earning rave reviews for his role in 'Sound of Metal'

A handout photo of Riz Ahmed as Nasir Khan in "The Night Of" (Craig Blankenhorn / HBO / OSN) *** Local Caption ***  al11jl-tv-nightof.jpg
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Throughout his career, British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed has used his platform for activism and advocacy, and pushed for better representation of Muslims in the media. So it's only natural that he'd make history as the first Muslim to be nominated in the Best Actor in a Leading Role category at the Oscars, for his powerful performance in Sound of Metal.

The actor, 38, who plays a drummer who loses his hearing in the drama, has already won a number of awards and critical acclaim for the role. The Oscar nomination is one of six categories the film is up for, including a supporting role nomination for co-star Paul Raci.

"When you hear your own name it's a weird feeling, I just quietly gave thanks and felt some gratitude," Ahmed told the Associated Press after nominations were announced Monday. "Everybody on this film was doing it because they wanted to push themselves and go farther than they have before. This was all of us trying to see how far could we go."

The London-born actor began his career with a role in the acclaimed 2006 Michael Winterbottom drama The Road to Guantanamo, in which he played a British Muslim captured and detained in Guantanamo by the US government for two years.

But it was his roles in the Star Wars film Rogue One and the HBO series The Night Of, both released in 2016, that really established his pop culture status. Ahmed made history in 2017, becoming the first Muslim to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for his role in The Night Of.

He's also a rapper and released his debut album, Microscope, in 2011 as Riz MC, as well as being a member of Swet Shop Boys, a hip-hop group whose debut album, Cashmere, released in 2016.

In 2018, inspired by Ahmed’s activism for better Muslim representation, two academics in the UK launched the Riz Test, a five-point criteria to measure how Muslims are portrayed on film and TV. The test is inspired by the popular Bechdel Test, a measure of the representation of women in fiction.

"We should stretch culture so that it's big enough and wide enough and expansive enough so that there's space for all of us to find ourselves in it, to feel that we belong and that we're included, and that we matter," Ahmed told Deadline following his Oscar nomination. "These changes aren't just something that's good politically or socially. It's something which allows stories and storytelling to get back to its original intention, which is to embrace all of us."

With a filmography that spans the spectrum, here are some of Ahmed’s most memorable roles so far.

'The Road to Guantanamo' (2006)

In his debut film, Ahmed played Shafiq, one of three British Muslims who were captured in Afghanistan and held in extrajudicial detention by the US government for two years in the Guantanamo Bay detainment camp in Cuba. Known in the media as the Tipton Three, the docudrama by Michael Winterbottom won the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, where it premiered. It also caused controversy on the sidelines when Ahmed and three other actors in the film were detained by police at Luton Airport in the UK after returning from the film's Berlin premiere.

Ahmed released a statement later saying police swore at him and asked if he had become an actor to further the Islamic cause. "She asked me whether I intended to do more documentary films, specifically more political ones like The Road to Guantanamo," he was quoted in The Guardian as saying.

'Shifty' (2008)

Set on the outskirts of London, this British crime drama follows Shifty, played by Ahmed, who is torn between a life of crime and what else could be. The film holds a 96 per cent "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

'Four Lions' (2010)

This British satirical comedy sees Ahmed plays Omar, who, along with his bumbling group of friends, aspires to be a suicide bomber. Time magazine rated the film as among the Top 10 movies of that year.

'Trishna' (2011)

Riz Ahmed and Freida Pinto in Michael Winterbottom's 'Trishna'. Courtesy TIFF

Ahmed reunited with Winterbottom for this drama, a loose adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles, also starring Freida Pinto. He plays Jay, a British-Indian businessman besotted by Pinto's Trishna, whose lower social status complicates their relationship.

'Ill Manors' (2012)

This British crime drama tells the story of eight main characters as they struggle to survive the streets. Ahmed plays Aaron, the deputy to a small-time drug dealer. The film received mostly positive reviews, praised for its gritty take on life in contemporary London.

'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' (2012)

Mira Nair’s adaptation of the acclaimed novel by Mohsin Hamid sees Ahmed play the lead as Changez Khan, a Pakistani man whose views of the world are challenged by the events after 9/11. While the film received mixed reviews, Ahmed was praised for his performance.

"Nair has found a real gem in Riz Ahmed, who anchors the film with a charismatically watchable performance. He's in virtually every frame and you hang on his every word," the Toronto Star wrote.

'Nightcrawler' (2014)

Ahmed stars alongside Jake Gyllenhaal in this thriller about a freelance journalist who records violent events at night and sells them to news stations. Ahmed plays Rick, a young man desperate for money, who is hired by Gyllenhaal’s Lou as an assistant.

'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story' (2016)

One of the biggest movies of the year, and one of the highest grossing films of all time, this Star Wars offshoot saw Ahmed play Bodhi Rook, an Imperial cargo pilot who deflects and joins a band of rebels who set out to steal the plan of the Death Star, a galactic superweapon. The film was also critically acclaimed, firmly establishing Ahmed's name in contemporary pop culture.

'The Night Of' (2016)

This eight-part crime mini-series on HBO casts Ahmed as Naz, a Pakistani-American college student accused of murdering a girl in New York City. The actor received rave reviews for his performance as a boy from a middle-class Pakistani family whose life is turned upside down, and who reluctantly enters a world of violence and drugs. The Night Of received 13 Emmy nominations and won five, including Ahmed's historic win for lead actor.

'Sound of Metal' (2019)

Critic Peter Travers called him "riveting", while NPR called his performance "soulful". Ahmed has been receiving rave reviews for his role as Ruben Stone, a drummer trying to come to terms with a sudden hearing loss. The film, directed by Darius Marder, has already won a number of awards and is up for six Oscars: Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing and Best Sound.


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