‘Sound of Metal’ Star Riz Ahmed Felt a ‘Burden of Representation’ On His Long Journey To Oscar Nomination

Riz Ahmed recently made history by becoming the first Muslim actor to earn an Oscar nomination. The talented actor garnered the nomination after starring in Sound of Metal, a film about a drummer who struggles to come to terms with the fact that he’s lost his sense of hearing. 

Ahmed has delivered critically acclaimed performances in other projects such as The Night Of, Sound of Metal showed the world how versatile of an actor Ahmed truly is. And as big of a deal as it is that Ahmed has made history, it also points to the fact that the entertainment industry still has a long way to go in regard to diversity and inclusion. 

Ahmed himself recently claimed that he personally felt a “burden of representation” as he worked his way up in the movie business, noting that he occupied a space that few others with his background do. 

Riz Ahmed felt a burden of representation as he worked his way up the movie business

Riz Ahmed attends the GQ Men of the Year party at Chateau Marmont
Riz Ahmed attends the GQ Men of the Year party at Chateau Marmont | Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

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Ahmed opened up about his challenges working in the movie business during a recent interview with The New York Times. He admitted that around the time he won an Emmy for The Night Of, he’d burnt himself out because he’d tried to stretch himself into so many different directions in an attempt to appease everyone around him. 

“It was something I was willing to diligently train for the validation of others,” Ahmed said.  “Whether that’s the ‘bravo’ of an audience or the ‘well done’ of a director or the retweets of music fans or thinking about what the people in my community need from me.”

Indulging in so many projects disconnected him from other things he loved doing, but Ahmed felt he had to work extremely hard because of his ethnic and religious background. 

“I think that’s a byproduct of a lot of things,” he said. “Like feeling a bit of a burden of representation on your shoulders, and realizing that you might occupy space that many others don’t.”

Starring in ‘Sound of Metal’ helped him overcome personal struggles

Even though Ahmed might not seem like the traditional archetype for a role about a deaf drummer with bleached hair and a ton of tattoos, that was exactly what made him want to take the role. He underwent a personal transformation as he worked through the character he had to play. 

“I feel more connected to me now than I’ve ever felt by going on a journey through space and time and inhabiting another body,” Ahmed said. “You leave home to return home.”

Sound of Metial director Darius Marder agreed that Ahmed’s performance catalzyed a change in the actor that is noticeable in his life. 

“I do think it marked this kind of crossroads in his life as an artist and as a person,” Marder said. “Maybe it’s not a mistake that he’s married now. He’s taking these big moments in life, these big changes, and giving himself to something else that is also out of his control.”