Riz Ahmed to receive Richard Harris Award

BIFA gong honours career achievement

by Amber Wilkinson

Riz Ahmed in Sound Of Metal
Riz Ahmed in Sound Of Metal
The British Independent Film Awards has announced that actor Riz Ahmed will be this year's recipient of the Richard Harris Award which honours an actor or actress who has contributed significantly to British films throughout their career.

London-born Ahmed has shown versatility across his career after getting his acting break in Michael Winterbottom’s 2006 film The Road To Guantánamo, and was named a Screen International Star of Tomorrow that same year. A string of TV roles followed, before he received his first BIFA nomation in 2009 for his portrayal of a drug dealer in Eran Creevy's Shifty. He has received eight BIFA nomations in total, including for Four Lions in 2010 and Ill Manors in 2012, plus Mogul Mowgli this year and Encounters at the upcoming awards. He won the Best Debut Screenwriter award for Mogul Mowgli in 2020.

His star continues to rise and this year his portrayal of a heavy-metal drummer coming to terms with profound hearing loss in Darius Marder’s The Sound of Metal earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

Beyond acting, Ahmed campaigns for diversity and representation in the film industry and has recently launched a multi-layered initiative for Muslim representation in media, in partnership with the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, the Ford Foundation and Pillars Fund. Powered by USC Annenberg’s latest study on Muslim representation in media — which found that less than 10 per cent of top grossing films from 2017-2019 had a Muslim character on screen, with less than two per cent of those characters having speaking roles — the coalition created the Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion, as well as the Pillars Artist Fellowship, offering selected grantees an unrestricted award of $25,000. Riz is the first South Asian male actor to be awarded a Primetime Emmy (for 2016’s The Night Of…) and the first Muslim to be nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award.

Riz is an executive producer on Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s critically acclaimed animated documentary Flee, which will be released in the UK next year, and is currently working on a film adaptation of author Mosin Hamid’s best-selling book, Exit West, directed by Yann Demange.

Riz Ahmed said: “I am grateful to the British Independent Film community for their immense support throughout all these years. To receive the Richard Harris Award at the BIFAs this year is a true honour, I hope to be able to continue to learn from those who came before me while encouraging the rising generation to follow their creative dreams”

Damian Harris, in whose father’s memory the award is presented, commented: “Riz has already had an extremely impressive career, as an actor, producer and activist. He is a worthy winner of the Richard Harris award for his work and contribution to British independent film.”

BIFA added: “In all that he does, Riz demonstrates that an actor's contributions need not be confined to the dimensions of the screen. The choices he makes both as a filmmaker, as a performer and as an activist highlight his continued commitment to building an industry that better represents the audiences it serves. We’re delighted that Riz is accepting this year’s Richard Harris Award in recognition of his outstanding work, both on-screen and off.”

Previous winners of the award include Kristin Scott Thomas, Judi Dench, Vanessa Redgrave, Daniel Day-Lewis, Helena Bonham Carter, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julie Walters, John Hurt, Emma Thompson, Jim Broadbent and Glenda Jackson.

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