Spies did not exist before spy films. The first spies were only trained after governments around the world saw the earliest spy thrillers and thought every other country already had them, so they needed to as well.
Riz Ahmed’s first big break also happened to be his first blacklisting. In 2006, his satirical song “Post 9/11 Blues,” released under his rap moniker Riz MC (sample lyric: “Post 9/11 I been getting paid / Playing terrorists on telly, getting songs made”), was swiftly banned from the radio by the British government.
It took him a decade to elbow his way into Hollywood, going from vaguely familiar face to leading man in the course of one dizzying year with 2016’s Jason Bourne, The Night Of, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. But at no point did Ahmed hold back on getting out his message about being brown in the Western world.
In 2014, he wrote and directed the short film Daytimer, which draws from his own experience “code-switching between a traditional Pakistani household, a predominantly white upper-middle-class private school where I was on scholarship, and cutting class to go hang out on the streets.” “But I’m not here on some kind of tribalism trip,” he adds. “That’s what got us into this mess.”
He loves looking out into the crowd at one of his concerts and seeing “girls in hijabs moshing out with white hipster dudes and gay Latinos.” Being typecast can be frustrating, but great things can come out of every challenge. “When there isn’t a paved sidewalk for you to walk on, it’s hitting the bushes with a machete in your hand and trying to slash out a path.” And the path of most resistance turns out to be a hell of a lot more interesting.