Actor, Musician and Activist: Riz Ahmed

Arts & CultureApril 12, 2022
Actor, Musician and Activist: Riz Ahmed

Riz Ahmed, the multidisciplinary artist, is here with a new short movie. We dive into his 2020 released album ‘The Long Goodbye’ about discrimination in Britain, and the Oscar-winning short film with the same title that was inspired by the album.

The point where we all knew who Riz Ahmed was the Emmy-winning limited series called ‘The Night Of’. Then his Amazon original movie ‘Sound of Metal’ was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, including Best Actor In A Leading Role, Best Motion Picture, and Best Original Screenplay, and won the Best Soundtrack award. We are looking at the South Asian – British artist and activist Riz Ahmed’s album released in 2020 and his short film inspired by this album, which he produced and co-written, and also starred in.

We can say that ‘The Long Goodbye’, which is the second studio album of Ahmed with 15 tracks, looks like a love story at first. It obviously is true without a little in-depth reading. However, if you are a bit familiar with the context and know Riz Ahmed a little, you can clearly understand that the relationship is just a metaphor. We are talking about a person who graduated from Oxford University PPE -Philosophy, Psychology and Economics-, worked on the Asian diaspora in almost all of his projects throughout his career and focused his activism on this area. As a matter of fact, we come across his works that try to explain bigger and more crucial problems in depth.

‘I spit my truth and it’s brown.’ – Fast Lava

Although the name of the first track of the album is ‘The Breakup’, when we give our ears to his words, we listen to an artist who is trying to explain his real problem crystal clear. Opening the album by saying “Britain is broken up with me”, Ahmed’s main theme for the album is xenophobia. Approaching the ‘different’ness of different identities, racial discrimination, being a minority, rising nationalism and far-right movements from a relational perspective, Riz Ahmed describes both his individual experiences and his own political stance in a very poetic and lyrical way.

Pointing fingers to the same issues in his previous albums, Ahmed summarizes this album as a ‘story of salvation’ in the triangle of grief, rage and inequality. It is possible to say that he made a cultural definition of rising racism with his highly descriptive sentences and carefully chosen words. In his album, Riz Ahmed, who creates a completely unique composition by blending the modern and traditional, Asian and Pakistani sounds and instruments, to the rhythms of the West, tries to explain the reality around the concepts of ’emotional truth’, in his own words, and experiences. questioning his own environment. When we look at his words, it is possible to say that he reminds us of  ‘This Is America’, which Donald Glover published as his persona Childish Gambino. From this perspective, we can say that the album of the artist, which deals with politics and sociology in allegorical forms, is quite underrated. The intolerance in the society, the discourses of ‘us’ and ‘them’, and the sequence of the songs are also quite planned to describe what it means to be from a certain nationality. The continuity, falls and rises of the songs in the album, which started with a break-up song and the  ending were fictionalized in a satirical storytelling format.

‘Beat me red and blue ‘til I knew right was white and not brown’ – The Breakup

After they met  Riz Ahmed and Aneil Karia, they decided to turn this album into a short film together. For 12 minutes, we witness a chaos that is completed with the combination of the film ‘The Long Goodbye’, the winner of the ‘Best Live Action Short’ award at the 2022 Academy Awards, and the album of Riz Ahmed comes together with the camera and makes us watch the movie without blinking. For those who watched Uncut Gems would easily visualize the concept. The movie starts with two brothers dancing. We find ourselves in the home of a crowded immigrant family, we see the sister and other family members are preparing for the wedding and are in their own troubles, the camera shows us each one of them with a close-up. Throughout the movie, we are exposed to a lot of data at the same time, such as the conversations coming from the background, the war news that we hear on the television and our character does not want to watch, and the singing of the bride who is getting ready upstairs. The performance of Riz Ahmed, who also makes cultural touches with little details such as the bride-to-be’s falling in love with someone else, is quite successful. We’ll be getting into some spoilers from now on.

‘Maybe I’m from everywhere and nowhere.’ – Where You From

The story, which proceeds with a chair cannot be decided where to be put, becomes chaotic when the house of this family living in a town of England is terrorized. We watch men pushed and crouching on their knees in the street and women who are kidnapped in cars, at a point where we sense the atmosphere of civil war, no one around or any neighbor helps and even turns their heads. Events come to the point where Riz Ahmed, who rises up to protect his little brother, was shot and fell to the ground. The movie turns into a poetic monologue with a song from Riz Ahmed’s album from the moment we watch the men crouching on their knees being shot in the head one by one through Ahmed’s eyes. The film ends with the words of Ahmed’s character, who grew up in an immigrant family in Britain, telling about the violence, fear, anger and despair as well as his search for identity. 

For those who want to watch the movie, it is available on Riz Ahmed’s Youtube channel.

Author: Öykü Gül