Ahmed was initially known for his work in independent films and gained more popularity as the lead actor of the hit HBO drama “The Night Of.”
He then went on to star in the latest epic “Star Wars” installment, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”
Ahmed has spoken out against limited roles for actors of color in both television and film, stating numerous times he would rather be poor than play stereotypical characters.
At the beginning of his acting career, Ahmed said he was often asked to play such roles, many of them characters who turned out to be terrorists, but made a conscious decision to turn them down.
A rewarding result of this decision, Ahmed said, is that he has been able to tackle deep issues in a meaningful way through his roles.
“So a lot of my early work deals with the issues around the war on terror or Islamophobia, but I’m proud to say it deals with and engages those issues in creative ways and I hope in ways that move us forward rather than doubling down on lazy stereotypes,” he told The Hollywood Reporter.
Ahmed has also emphasized the importance of diversity and representation. His belief that the media can combat terrorism and hate, as well as his wish to become a positive role model for peers and youth, has encouraged him not to feed into the negative portrayal of colored people on screen.
In March, he delivered a powerful speech on representation at the United Kingdom Parliament for the annual diversity lecture.
Representation is fundamental to what expect from our culture. When people don’t feel represented, you get extremism, division, and lose out on our full potential,” Ahmed said in his parliament speech. “Things can get very ugly very fast. Let’s step up, and represent.”
“If we fail to represent, we are in danger of losing people to extremism,” Ahmed said, according to The Guardian. “In the mind of the Islamic State recruit, he’s the next James Bond, right? Have you seen some of those ISIS propaganda videos, they are cut like action movies. Where is the counter-narrative? Where are we telling these kids they can be heroes in our stories, that they are valued?”
Ahmed also hopes to use his political roles to fight the status quo. Although there are limited roles available for Asian and black characters, Ahmed stated: “there are a certain subset of stories that are open for me to tell, and I’m glad to say that subset is kind of expanding.”