The Long Read: As my acting job developed, I was no longer cast as a radical Muslim except at the airport
To begin with, auditions schooled me to get through airports. In the end, it was the other way around. Im an actor. Since I was a girl I have had to play different characters, negotiating the cultural hopes of a Pakistani family, Brit-Asian rudeboy culture, and a scholarship to private school. The fluidity of my own personal identity on any generated date was further compounded by the changing labels assigned to Asians in general.
As children in the 1980 s, when my brother and I were stopped near our residence by a skinhead who decided to applied a knife to my brothers throat, we were pitch-black. A decade subsequently, the spear to my throat was held by another Paki, a label we wore with swagger in the Brit-Asian youth and gang culture of the 1990 s. The next time I encountered myself as helplessly cornered, it was in a windowless area at Luton airport. My limb was in a distressing wrist-lock and my collar pinned to the wall by British intelligence officers. It was post 9/11, and I was now named a Muslim.
As a minority , no sooner do you memorize to polish and cherish one chip on your shoulder than its to take away you and swapped for another. The jewellery of your struggles is forever on lend, like the Koh-i-Noor diamond in the crown jewels.You are periodically handed a necklace of labels to hang around your neck, neither of your choosing nor oblige, both choking and decorative.
Part of the reason I became an actor was the promise that I might be able to help elongate these pendants, and that the teenage version of myself might breath much easier as a result.
If the films I re-enacted as a kid could humanise monstrosities and aliens, maybe there was hope for us. But depictings of ethnic minorities wreaked in stages, I realised, so Id have to strap in for a long ride.
Stage one is the two-dimensional stereotype the minicab driver/ terrorist/ cornershop owned. It tightens the necklace.
Stage two is the subversive depicting, taking place on ethnic terrain but is an attempt to challenge existing stereotypes. It slackens the necklace.
And stage three is the Promised Land, where you play a attribute whose narration is not intrinsically linked to his race. There, I am not a terror believe , nor a victim of forced marriage. There, my call is likely to be be Dave. In this residence, “were not receiving” necklace.
I started playing professionally during the post-9/ 11 boom for stage-one stereotypes, but I shunned them at the behest of my 18 -year-old self. Luckily, there was also a minuscule pinpoint of theatre two stuff taking influence, subverting those same stereotypes, and I managed to get in on the act.
My first movie was in this mode, Michael Winterbottoms The Road to Guantnamo. It told the story of a group of friends from Birmingham “whos” illegally jailed and tortured in the US detainment camp. When it acquired a prestigious accolade at the Berlin film festival, we were euphoric. For those who find it, the inpatients led from orange jumpsuits to human beings.
But airport security did not get the memo. Returning to the glamour of Luton Airport after our gala winning, ironically appointed British intelligence officers frogmarched me to an unmarked area where they insulted, menaced, and then criticized me.
What kinda film you realise? Did you become an actor to further the Muslim struggle? an officer bellowed, twisting my arm to the point of snapping.
The question is ruffling not only because it endangers artistic idiom, but because it intimates our security services dont fairly grasp the nature of the fear menace we all face. A prepare show outlining Al-Qaidas penchant for theatrical strikes may have been taken a bit literally.
It turned out that what those special branch officers did was illegal. I was asked by activist solicitors if I wanted to sue, but instead I wrote an account of the accident and communicated it to a few journalists. A storey about the illegal detention of the actors from a movie about illegal detention turned out to be too good to ignore. I was glad to molted some light on this depressing state of affairs.