Former Byker Grove star says we need to ‘stop defaming Muslims’ on TV and movies

For Project Mirror’s NextGen UK, Elisa Naeem talks with former child star, Sajid Varda, about his experience as a Muslim actor and why the industry still needs change

Sajid Varda
Sajid Varda works to support Muslims in TV and movies through his charity

The Muslim actor who first appeared in Byker Grove says there is still “a way to go” when it comes to screen performance.

Sajid Varda, who appeared in the 1996 children’s film with a plot about racism, said it was a challenge at the time but an important plot to tackle.

“It was a really hard thing to do because it was all about racism and it was the first time they used the P-word in a teen movie.

“There were so many complaints to Points of View about it, people thought it was just too much for a teen movie.

“It then ranked top in magazines. A lot of white people didn’t appreciate it because it was so… ‘Oh, you can’t say the P’.

“But [I thought] ‘you guys do it all the time in real life, we just show you what you’re doing’. But yes, it’s a great opportunity. ”

Sajid Varda pictured in the BBC show, ‘Byker Grove’



Sajid works to tackle anti-Muslim stereotypes through his charity Movies Islam UK.

He added: “There is a lot of anti-Muslim sentiment and now you are seeing that spill over into politics around the world.

“So TV and movies pretty much reflect that. Whether it’s television or movies, you’ll find that everything is themed around the four main types of tropes or the negative stereotypes surrounding Muslims as terrorists.

“Muslim men are misogynists. Of course, Muslim women are oppressed, and Islam is a threat to the West. “

Sajid says that the roles he’s been given have focused on him being a Muslim, often with negative stereotypes.

“I can’t just be a man on TV, living my life, being a Muslim,” he said.

“I had to be a Muslim on TV. He’s raging and going against the system and trying to blow people up, or beating up my wife or trying to oppress her or just being a problem. ”

Many Muslims feel there has been a very anti-Muslim, anti-Muslim wave across TV shows and movies.

This came to the fore after the devastating events of 9/11 changed the trajectory of Muslims’ lives around the world, Sajid said.

“The terrible events of that day… shaped politics and shaped industry really, in a way that became very anti-Muslim, anti-Muslim,” says Sajid.

Sajid believes that the negative roles stem from the lack of Muslims on screen and works behind the scenes in the film and television industry.


The Chop: Cotton Reel / Rendition Films)

When Muslims and Muslims are vilified on screen, these attitudes can translate to real life.

Oscar-nominated Muslim actor Riz Ahmed summed it up when he said: “The representation of Muslims on screen provides information about policies enacted, people killed, countries. Invaded.”

“There is a lot of fear of Islam,” says Sajid. There was a lot of anti-Muslim sentiment, and now you’re seeing that spill over into politics all over the world. “

He believes these negative portrayals stem in part from the lack of Muslims on screen and behind-the-scenes work in the film and television industry.

Nearly a quarter of the world’s population is Muslim, but only 1% of the characters portrayed in the 100 highest-grossing US films between 2017-19 are Muslim, according to the USC Annenberg Inclusive Initiative.

Similarly, only 25.9% of screenwriters in 2020 are people of color according to the 2021 Hollywood Diversity Report.

Sajid founded Islamic Films UK to address these issues.

The charity works in film and television to support the production of films and shows with a focus on Islam.

He hopes the charity will help level the playing field of an often very special industry.

“The charity is there to really celebrate the creative talent and amazing achievements of Muslim innovators in the UK and around the world,” says Sajid.

“As a platform to create a community, a hub for the Muslim creative community to meet the industry. And I suppose, have access because it’s a very privileged industry.

“There is a barrier to entry, it is still very white. It’s a network of very old guys, it’s very crowded and it’s very difficult for everyone to succeed in the industry, unless you come from a certain background. ”

Sajid says some progress has been made in the direction of positive representation, pointing to Nextflix’s Midnight Festival and the Channel 4 TV series Screw as examples.

In 2022, Marvel will release Ms. Marvel, a Disney miniseries focusing on the life of a teenage Muslim Pakistani-American superhero. Former Byker Grove star says we need to 'stop defaming Muslims' on TV and movies

Fry Electronics Team

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