Muslim Actors at the Emmys: Where is Our Recognition?

It took until 2016 for a Muslim to be recognized for their work by the Television Academy, 73 years after the Emmys were first awarded.

Muslim Actors at the Emmys: Where is Our Recognition?

This article was originally posted in October 2022 and has not been updated.

While Muslims are significantly underrepresented in the entertainment industry, some have managed to receive recognition at the highest levels, including at the Emmys. Though these achievements are long overdue, they still deserve to be celebrated. 

It took until 2016 for a Muslim to be recognized for their work by the Television Academy: 73 years after the Emmys were first awarded, Aziz Ansari, a comedian and actor, was nominated and won twice for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for his series “Master of None” (2015–2017). The show, which is loosely based on Ansari’s own experiences, follows Dev, a New-York based actor, who navigates life in the city while searching for his purpose. The show received a total of 12 nominations across the Primetime and Creative Arts Emmys. 

The first Muslim to win for an acting role was actor, director, and rapper Riz Ahmed, who has had an impressive career spanning multiple genres. Ahmed was nominated for Best Actor in 2017 for his role in "The Night Of" (2016), where he played Nasir Khan, a Pakistani American college student who was falsely accused of murder. Ahmed was the first Muslim and first actor of Asian descent to win the award. 

In total, there are only three Muslims to be recognized in acting roles and for writing in the Emmys’ 73-year history.

The only other Muslim to be nominated for an acting award is Ramy Youssef, an actor, comedian, writer, and the creator of “Ramy” (2019–). The show follows Ramy Hassan, an Egyptian American, on his spiritual journey. Youssef received two Emmy nominations in 2020, for Best Lead Actor and for Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series. He did not win either, but the show “Ramy” was the first American Muslim sitcom to be nominated at the Emmy Awards. 

In total, there are only three Muslims to be recognized in acting roles and for writing in the Emmys’ 73-year history. All of these actors are men, and two of them are of South Asian descent, which is not at all a reflection of the diversity of the Muslim community. Only 1% of speaking characters on television are Muslim, and Muslims are the most diverse religious community in the world. Only 30% of the Muslim characters on television are women. 

Although the past few years have brought more Muslim women on screen, in shows like "Ms. Marvel" (2022) and "We Are Lady Parts" (2021–), there still are significant gaps in representation of Muslims on screen, and especially in nominations for the Emmys themselves. 

There are also very few Muslims who have the tools or the funding to create stories about people like them, in which they can center Muslims on screen. Just recently, the Netflix show starring Abubakr Ali as the first Arab Muslim lead in a superhero genre series was canceled after it had already filmed eight episodes. "Batgirl," the DC movie that became a tax write-off, was directed by two Muslim men. Muslim characters and stories are still not regarded as deserving of the same chance in the spotlight. Stories that are about and for Muslims are rare, but the lack of recognition of talent in Muslim actors, and especially Muslims actresses, proves that the Emmys continue to gloss over the actual diversity in television in favor of upholding white actors and actresses as the standard.