Representation on screen is getting talked about more and more every day. There are some who are tired of hearing about it (perhaps because they’ve always seen themselves on screen) but I hope the more personal stories we hear the more people will listen and understand why it’s so important. Case in point, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’s Riz Ahmed posted an image he drew when he was just seven-years-old of Luke Skywalker paired with a touching message. If you’re here, and reading about Star Wars, I think it’s safe to say the franchise means something to you. You’re not alone.
Ahmed has had a pretty stellar year. Besides his work as Riz MC, he’s starred as Nasir Khan on HBO’s The Night Of, Aaron Kalloor in Jason Bourne, and Elias Rahim in Netflix’s The OA. With his role as Bodhi Rook in Rogue One, his star continues to rise. He dropped by The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon to promote the film and after he did a freestyle rap about Star Wars, was left to dwell on some deep thoughts. He shared them on Instagram along with an image he drew when he was seven.
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As I was walking off Jimmy Fallon's after doing a little freestyle rap, he leaned in and said "dude, you're in the #1 album & #1 film in the country!" I fell silent, nodded and grinned awkwardly…a few days later I was told The Good Immigrant was voted the UK's book of the year, got these award nominations for The Night Of, and Swet Shop Boys made a load of 'best of the year' lists. None of this felt real. Now I'm back home I saw these pictures I drew at age 7 of Darth & Luke, after watching Empire Strikes Back. I was reimagining these characters 'when they got old', reshaping their world, and nothing about that seemed weird. But somehow in the years between then and when i myself 'got old', the constant message that someone like me couldn't ever belong, or shape the world around them, had taken hold. I had no road map or template to follow in trying to prove those messages wrong. I started believing them. Only a year ago, for various reasons, I wasn't sure I could carry on doing this. I had a realisation through some really tough moments that we have no control in life. And it got me down. But then, seeing no other way forwards, I had to embrace this helplessness, and through it, rediscover a sense of childishness, and of play. I finally stopped making things to prove myself to others, and started doing things for my younger self. And that's when things started connecting with people, when I was working with no expectation of how my work would be received. When it was play…Most importantly it connected with amazing collaborators. For all my work this year from Englistan, The Night Of, Swet Shop Boys, The Good Immigrant, Hamilton Mixtape, Star Wars, Bourne, to the OA – I have been privileged to stand on the shoulders of giants. I'm grateful to those who have allowed me to be a part of their vision and those who were kind enough to watch, listen, read, and notice. I hope I can continue to justify your support. I'm incredibly grateful for this moment in time. Walking off Jimmy's chat show that night, I felt as cool as I did in this photo, age 7. But the best part of it wasn't feeling cool, it was feeling like a kid. Keep your inner child alive. Keep dreaming.
“I saw these pictures I drew at age 7 of Darth & Luke, after watching Empire Strikes Back. I was reimagining these characters ‘when they got old’, reshaping their world, and nothing about that seemed weird. But somehow in the years between then and when i myself ‘got old’, the constant message that someone like me couldn’t ever belong, or shape the world around them, had taken hold,” he writes. “I had no road map or template to follow in trying to prove those messages wrong. I started believing them.”
This here is exactly why people are trying to do better in bringing the real world to the screen. Rogue One’s director Gareth Edwards spoke about this recently too saying “I was very lucky: I’m British, I grew up in England, and I got to see myself represented in a film. I think it’s about time that we represented the rest of the world.”
Ahmed’s Rogue One co-star Diego Luna, who plays Cassian Andor, also spoke about how inclusive the film is to Esquire earlier this month. He said as a child growing up in Mexico he never imagined he’d wind up in a Star Wars film. “I never, never even thought about it,” he said. “I mean, I guess, as a kid, I probably sent enough messages to the universe that one day it became true.” He also spoke about the power audiences have to ask for what they want to see on screen, even if they have a tough time being heard.
It gives me hope that these gigantic films that reach everywhere are finally representing the planet and not just one market. Today, the market is the world, and the diversity we experience every day is being portrayed [on film]. That is something to celebrate, you know? My feeling is that audiences are sending a message, and the message isn’t heard. Audiences want to feel represented, want to be able to empathize with the characters and the stories they are seeing on the screen. And this is exactly that. I think the smartest part of this whole thing is that it’s a modern approach to the universe of Star Wars. It’s making a comment on the world we live in today. The first film, Episode IV, is a big comment on the ’70s. And the Star Wars film that we were a part of is definitely making a comment on the world we live in, where the role of women is different, where we have this cultural and racial diversity that makes us stronger and richer.
Ahmed also mentioned in his Instagram post that just a year ago he considered quitting acting, feeling that he had no control. But, he says, he rediscovered that state of mind his younger self had and was able to break through.
“I have been privileged to stand on the shoulders of giants. I’m grateful to those who have allowed me to be a part of their vision and those who were kind enough to watch, listen, read, and notice. I hope I can continue to justify your support. I’m incredibly grateful for this moment in time,” he said. “Walking off Jimmy’s chat show that night, I felt as cool as I did in this photo, age 7. But the best part of it wasn’t feeling cool, it was feeling like a kid. Keep your inner child alive. Keep dreaming.”
Here’s that rap if you’re interested. They threw him a curve ball with “Calrissian.”