Amrou Al-Kadhi is a writer, actor and filmmaker. The British-Iraqi is only 26, but he's already been asked to play a terrorist on screen some 30 times.
In an op-ed published with The Independent on Thursday, the young actor calls out the overt stereotyping and typecasting plaguing Hollywood and the British film industry. He says that he's even been told to see racial profiling as "a positive thing" by casting directors.
A prominent casting director once responded to his complaints by telling him to use his "ethnicity as a playing card" in a competitive industry.
"When characters aren’t as explicitly linked to jihadi fundamentalism, most Arab roles I’ve read serve as antagonists to white heroes," Kadhi writes.
His first role, at 14, was in Steven Spielberg’s Munich. He played an Islamic terrorist’s son.
Hollywood constantly perpetuates negative stereotypes of Arabs
"Nearly zero Arab and Muslim identities are portrayed three-dimensionally on screen," Kadhi writes.
He points out that American Sniper – an American film that tells the true story of a White American soldier who bragged about slaughtering Arabs in Iraq – is one of the highest-grossing films in history.
Of course, Kadhi isn't the first to call out the racism. Academics and lecturers have long pointed to the problem.
Jack Shaheen, a writer and lecturer, published a book called Reel Bad Arabs in 2001, which analyzed nearly 1,000 films and documented how they portray Arabs and Muslims as brutal, heartless, uncivilized others bent on terrorizing civilized Westerners.
Some industry professionals are trying to make a change
Arab actors, writers and directors are fighting an uphill battle for change. In 2015, Ahmad Hussam and Nick Armero, two filmmakers in the United States, launched a social media campaign to push Netflix to stream their television show on Salahadin Al-Ayoubi, the sultan of Egypt and Syria who in 1187 fought off the Crusaders.
After their campaign trended, Netflix granted them a meeting but decided not to fund the new series.
Within the Arab world, governments have begun pushing forward initiatives to support local filmmakers. Just in the past few years, Qatar and the UAE have invested heavily in building a stronger Arab film industry that can challenge Western stereotypes.
Arab films such as Theeb and Amreeka have gotten a boost through these efforts, and have been able to reach a Western audience.
But things need to be different now
Kadhi's article calls on film industry professionals to "look outwards at the contemporary world." He says they should portray "minorities in a way that helps to dispel social prejudices and bring communities closer together."
"I feel every Islamophobic utterance by Trump and Le Pen – or Theresa May’s silent apologism – as a personal, frightening blow," he writes.
He says Hollywood "should not be complicit."
"More than ever before, we need the cinema screen to do its unique job: to illuminate ignored identities, and to challenge the ideas that prejudice and politics would have us believe," he writes.