25 March, 2022
The New Arab Meets: British Muslim filmmaker Rizwan Wadan who is tackling anti-Muslim hate through film and opening dialogue with innovative campaigns that aim to bring people together.
British-born Muslim filmmaker Rizwan Wadan has been working tirelessly for the last five years, screening his hard-hitting film in public settings all across the UK. The film produced by Rizwan, under his production company Pixeleyed Pictures, is part of the Error in Terror campaign which aims to deter individuals from carrying out acts of terror, promote harmony within the wider community and dispel stereotypes surrounding Muslims and Islam.
With the rise of global Islamophobia, Rizwan – who has worked on camera for Hollywood films such as The Favourite and Star Wars – has garnered support from the mainstream film industry including veterans like Oscar-winning cinematographer Peter Biziou who worked on films such as The Truman Show among many others.
“It’s not the media’s responsibility to change narratives. We need to nurture more talent within these fields. It’s about us empowering ourselves to be able to tell these stories such as having more journalists, more writers, filmmakers telling our own stories and nurturing talent from minority backgrounds”
“The motivation to start this campaign came from seeing how Muslims were portrayed through media, news and entertainment,” Rizwan tells The New Arab. “I wanted to create this campaign to have these difficult conversations with people and to be able to address this (anti-Muslim hate) through the visual medium of film.”
Rizwan’s powerful film aims to separate Islamic teachings and principles from being associated with terrorism and also serves to educate non-Muslims about the true essence of the religion, which he says can be done by, “creating a movement which turns confrontations into conversations.”
“When you watch the film and you see the explosion it’s difficult, it sucks you straight in and it takes you to the point where the viewer is hooked into what’s happening,” he explains.
The film then goes on to show how terrorism has no religion and how terror goes against the tenets of Islam.
“We flipped the narrative on its head and I think the reaction has been shocking for people. We’ve had loads of people in tears.”
One man who attended a screening of the film in Blackburn said, “It’s pulling back the curtain and demystifying something that’s in somebody’s mind, either it’s an assumption or its media-fed or fed by friends of what the reality is. People need to find their own reality. The conversation is the starting point to demystify things.”
The film has been screened in pubs, public spaces, cafes and mosques inviting people from areas where anti-Muslim hate has been often rampant. Rizwan and his team are now set to go to other regions across the UK such as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
“I’ve had nothing but support from the non-Muslim community and even individuals from Britain First and EDL have changed their perspectives and have apologised after opening dialogue.”
His campaign is going through the next phase in the journey where he is researching and documenting views on Muslims with the aim to unite communities that have been hard hit by Islamophobia. Speaking to the general public about Islam remains a primary focus, as many people he has interviewed about their views on Islam have not had exposure to Muslims before.
“The only thing they’ve ever seen is the negative image of Muslims in the mainstream media. For the majority of people we interviewed, that is the narrative in their head, especially in areas where people have not met Muslims before or there’s a rise of far-right extremism.”
Yousra Samir Imran
Rizwan believes that negative narratives of Muslims played out within the mainstream media “fuel the hatred” within the community which is why he encourages Muslims to get involved in the creative industries.
“It’s not the media’s responsibility to change narratives. We need to nurture more talent within these fields. It’s about us empowering ourselves to be able to tell these stories such as having more journalists, more writers, filmmakers telling our own stories and nurturing talent from minority backgrounds.”
The campaign film has been translated into various languages to reach a wider audience and was successful as a finalist at the British Film Institute Triforce Film Festival.
As a devout Muslim, Rizwan says that he credits his success to God first and then all the people in the industry who helped to make his project a reality.
In total, Rizwan has raised £1.2 million towards this project with the help of the industry, supporters and partners. He has had to make personal sacrifices to create this campaign, costing him a loss of earnings as he had to put his professional career on hold.
However, he remains resilient to continue his work and has partnered with a leading British university to undertake research through his documented experiences, having spoken to people from all walks of life on their views about Muslims and Islam.
“I think there needs to be a more consistent effort in representation (of Muslims) in film. Our image and how we are portrayed in the media has had a negative impact on community relations,” he adds.
“I think the public need to be more aware of our contributions to society and I think it’s about time that people do see the good that we do.”
Tasnim Nazeer is an award-winning journalist, author, and Universal Peace Federation Ambassador. She has written for Al Jazeera, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, Middle East Eye, CNN, BBC, and others. She was awarded the FIPP the global network of media Rising Stars in Media Award 2018.
Follow her on Twitter: @tasnimnazeer1