Only 1% of Speaking Characters on TV are Muslim, USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s Report Finds

Only 1% of Speaking Characters on TV are Muslim, USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s Report Finds

The latest report from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative includes statistics on the numbers and diversity of Muslim characters on television from 2018-2019. The report looked at the 200 highest-rated series from the U.S., U.K., Australia and New Zealand. The report, titled “Erased or Extremists: The Stereotypical View of Muslims in Popular Episodic Series” points out the many stereotypes that have historically been associated with Muslims and are still present in portrayals of Muslims on-screen, namely that of the association of Islam with terrorism.

According to the report, in the top 200 series from 2018-2019, only 1% of the 8,885 speaking characters on TV were Muslim, even though Muslims make up about 25% of the world’s population. There were also only 12 Muslim series regulars, and even these series regulars were representative of stereotypes, with 7 out of these 12 being perpetrators or targets of violence. 87% of the 200 series used in the report did not feature even one Muslim speaking character.

Muslims are the most racially and ethnically diverse religious community, but more than half of the Muslims on screen in series from 2018-2019 were of Middle-Eastern or North African (MENA) descent. Only 13.3% of the Muslims on screen were African American. There was also a disparity within the Muslim characters on screen in terms of gender. The ratio of Muslim male characters to Muslim female characters was 174 to 1. The “typical” Muslim speaking character in these shows was a young man of MENA descent, and was often associated with terrorism or the target of violence.

87% of the 200 series used in the report did not feature even one Muslim speaking character.

Actor and Oscar nominee Riz Ahmed, who founded Left Handed Films, shared the report on Twitter along with a link to The Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion, which provides suggestions for empowering Muslims to be a part of creating stories. The Blueprint, which works to further Ahmed’s goal of making more space for Muslims on TV and in film, was initially created in 2021 as a companion to another USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative report that detailed the problems of Muslim representation in films from 2017-2019. According to the 2021 study, only 1.6% of the 8,965 speaking characters were Muslim across 200 popular films. 

In a guest column in Variety, the authors of the study — Al-Baab Khan, Dr. Stacy L. Smith and Dr. Katherine Pieper — wrote, “Stories about Muslims need marketing and advertising that is on par with what stories with white men at the center receive. They need critics from the community to review them. And, most importantly, they need to last.” The authors pointed out that shows that do feature diverse characters are often the first to get canceled if the broadcaster or streaming service is dissatisfied with the series’ viewership.

The report from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative laid bare the lack of nuance and diversity in the portrayal of Muslim characters on-screen in TV, specifically when it comes to portraying different racial, ethnic and gender identities. The authors of the study also called on industry professionals and executives to hire more Muslim writers, directors and producers in order to rectify the persisting stereotypes associated with Muslims on screen and in real life.

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