10 Movies That Feature Positive Portrayals of Muslims
Sound of Metal star Riz Ahmed is taking a stand against Muslim misrepresentation on screen.
On June 10, the actor announced the launch of a brand-new initiative called The Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion, created to combat Islamophobia in the film industry. In his speech, he explained, “The problem with Muslim misrepresentation is one that can't be ignored anymore and one that I can't fix alone.” He also added, “The progress that’s being made by a few of us doesn’t paint an overall picture of progress if most of the portrayals of Muslims on screen are either nonexistent or entrenched in those stereotypical, toxic, two-dimensional portrayals.”
His statements came following the release of a revealing study by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, which revealed that nearly 70 percent of Muslim characters are racially profiled in films and that 39 percent have perpetrated violence. Given these staggering numbers, it comes as no surprise that Ahmed is making moves to change this pattern. And while there’s still a far way to go in terms of representation, we thought we’d take a moment to highlight standout movies that feature more meaningful, positive portrayals of Muslim characters. From Body of Lies to Malcolm X, here are 10 movies worth checking out.
1. ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ (2012)
Who’s in it? Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson, Liev Schreiber, Kiefer Sutherland
What’s it about? Ahmed stars as Changez Khan, a young Pakistani man whose promising career comes to a screeching halt following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. Despite mixed reviews from critics, the film’s main character is well-rounded and far from stereotypical. The movie also does a great job of exploring relevant themes, from racism to the American Dream.
2. ‘Body of Lies’ (2008)
Who’s in it? Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong, Golshifteh Farahani
What’s it about? A CIA officer hatches a risky plan to capture an elusive terrorist, even though a wrong step just might end up costing him his life. To be fair, the film does include problematic tropes (since Muslims are portrayed as terrorists), but it's one redeeming quality is the character Aisha, an intelligent and self-confident nurse who doesn’t come off as a one-dimensional victim.
3. ‘The Kite Runner’ (2007)
Who’s in it? Khalid Abdalla, Zekeria Ebrahimi, Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada
What’s it about? Based on Khaled Hosseini's novel of the same name, this poignant drama tells a beautiful tale of friendship between two Afghani boys, who are suddenly torn apart after one of them suffers a traumatic incident. What makes this film stand out is the fact that it centers on layered Muslim characters that anyone can identify with.
4. ‘Malcolm X’ (1992)
Who’s in it? Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, Spike Lee, Albert Hall, Al Freeman Jr., Delroy Lindo
What’s it about? The Oscar-nominated film depicts the most important moments in Malcom X’s life, from his criminal days and conversion to Islam to his pilgrimage to Mecca. Arguably one of Washington's best performances to date, Malcolm X is portrayed as more than just a civil rights leader. We also see the full range of his character as he struggles with his own faith and the teachings of the Nation of Islam.
5. ‘Salmon fishing in the Yemen’ (2011)
Who’s in it? Emily Blunt, Ewan McGregor, Kristin Scott Thomas, Amr Waked
What’s it about? The light-hearted rom-com centers on fisheries expert Alfred Jones (McGregor) and financial adviser Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Blunt), who work together to help a wealthy sheikh bring salmon fishing to Yemen. Thankfully, the sheikh isn’t painted as a corrupt, power-hungry villain (as many would expect), but instead, he’s a wise, respectable guy with a genuine passion for fishing.
6. ‘Theeb’ (2014)
Who’s in it? Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat, Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen, Hassan Mutlag Al-Maraiyeh
What’s it about? Set in the early 1900s, it follows an orphaned Bedouin boy named Theeb, who struggles to survive a long journey across the Wadi Rum desert. The coming-of-age film, which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, includes a powerful and authentic portrayal of Muslim values and culture.
7. ‘The Furnace’ (2020)
Who’s in it? Ahmed Malek, Kaushik Das, Baykali Ganambarr, Noah Skape
What’s it about? The Australian Western drama tells the thrilling tale of Hanif (Malek), an Afghan cameleer who joins forces with a mysterious bushman to get stolen Crown-marked gold bars to a secret furnace, where they can remove the stamps and make them untraceable. Malek plays a complex, sympathetic character that you can’t help but root for.
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8. ‘Ali’ (2001)
Who’s in it? Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Jon Voight, Mario Van Peebles
What’s it about? Smith is legendary boxer Muhammad Ali in this compelling sports drama, which details his heavyweight championship victory, his conversion to Islam and his controversial political views. As impressive as the performances are, what really shines through is the film’s approach to common Muslim practices and interfaith marriage.
9. ‘The Big Sick’ (2017)
Who’s in it? Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Adeel Akhtar
What’s it about? Inspired by the true story of how Nanjiani met his his wife, The Big Sick follows an aspiring Indian-American comedian who falls for a white psychology student. But when she gets seriously ill, both have to deal with the cultural clash between their families. Not only does this rom-com portray a Muslim-American in a comical and authentic way, but it also proves that Islam isn't a monolith.
10. ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’ (1991)
Who’s in it? Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, Alan Rickman
What’s it about? Costner’s performance as the leading hero may have been mediocre at best, and many find it problematic that Freeman's portrayal isn’t 100 percent accurate. Still, Robin Hood's trusted ally feels like a positive depiction of those in the Muslim community. Join the duo as they fight to defend the poor.