Renowned actor and Tamgha-e-Imtiaz recipient Mehwish Hayat, who’s been AWOL since a while now, has finally taken to her social media to add to the conversation initiated by British actor Riz Ahmed, with a speech she made in Oslo back in 2019.
Ahmed’s latest bid to change Muslim representation in major films earned him praise from celebrities across the world. The likes of Dua Lipa and Olivia Wilde raised a glass for The Reluctant Fundamentalist star on their social media while local actor Feroze Khan expressed great pride in him for the same.
But Hayat, who was quite active on Twitter prior to the pandemic and spoke extensively against the Indian oppression in occupied Kashmir, had been missing in action since the Israeli aggression rose against Palestinians. Still, she is focused on improving the image of Muslims and Pakistanis world over, as evident from her latest tweets, which include a video of her advocating for the same in a Pak-Nordic conference in Oslo.
In her thread, she writes, “The issue of misrepresentation of Muslims and how it is fuelling Islamophobia is a poignant one for me. So glad to see @rizwanahmed taking a positive action, a real watershed moment, time for our industry to step up and also counter the way that we are shown in Hollywood and Bollywood. We need films ‘about’ and not just ‘for’ Pakistan. Something I advocated in Oslo in 2019.”
Reinstating how Oslo is the home of the Nobel Peace Prize, Hayat goes onto assert that peace is something Pakistanis have not known since its inception. “Ours was a volatile birth, and we were embroiled in one conflict or another for as long as I can remember. For us, peace has become a relative state of mind,” says the Punjab Nahi Jaungi star. “Even as I address you today, we are at the brink of yet another conflict with our neighbour over Kashmir, which literally blew up last week,” she adds.
“But why should all of this matter to me as an actress? Shouldn’t I just do my films and move on? I cannot do that because I believe, we in the film industry carry a tremendous responsibility. Cinema is a very powerful tool,” continues the actor, who then explains how the big screen holds the power to change people’s outlook and attitude. Addressing Hollywood filmmakers, Hayat shares, “I sincerely believe that Hollywood films and programs vilify my country and portray us as backward terrorists, which has had a profound effect on the psyche of the west. It has greatly influenced what people think of Pakistan. Homeland, Zero Dark Thirty, The Brink to name a few, have built an image of my country that I certainly don’t recognise.”
She then reinstates how for a country which is branded a terrorist nation, “we have lost almost 70,000 lives and countless billions since 2001. That is more than any other country, where is that being shown?”
Hayat goes on to state that these films combined with others have fuelled the rise of Islamophobia, while our neighbours, who have one of the largest film industries in the world, add fuel to that fire by making countless films showing Pakistanis as the villains. “In a time where they could’ve used that power, they yield to bring us together, what do they do? I have lost count of the number of films even in the last year, which show Pakistan in the bad light. I understand that given our history, our upbringing, and the politics in the region, it is very difficult to be neutral. And being so, can be seen as unpatriotic. However, if we want to have any semblance of peace for future generations, we as artists have to look beyond nationalism,” schools the celebrity.
She then urges for Pakistani filmmakers to also take ownership for this misrepresentation and asks them to be less insular. Hayat assures that through our films, “we can present a more nuanced picture of our country across international audiences.”
The Actor in Law star believes we have been too focused on our own audiences. “Maybe we should start making films about Pakistan, and not only for Pakistan. Hollywood has to accept the damage that they’ve inflicted on my country with the way that they’ve been portraying us. I don’t ask for more positive representations, but can these representations be more balanced?” she questions.
Hayat guarantees the audience there’s more to Pakistanis than gun wielding terrorists and subjugating women, “that’s so clichéd,” she remarks. To conclude, she addresses India once again and says, “As for our neighbours, they really need to decide, what is it that they want – nationalistic fervour, or a peaceful future? Like our Prime Minister Imran Khan said, if they are willing to take the first step towards peace, we are willing to take ten more. I pray that common sense prevails, and we are able to witness peace in our region within this lifetime.”
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