As the director of FIFA’s recent Midnight Ramadan League ad, as well as feature films Mogul Mowgli, Ghosts of Sugar Land and These Birds Walk, Bassam Tariq is changing how Muslims and people of colour are depicted on screen, creating a stark counterpoint to the “caricaturised” figures that popular culture has often relied on in the past.
“The funny thing is, I never thought Apu was problematic,” he tells CR, of his – and doubtless many others’ – complicated relationship with these characters. “I didn’t even allow myself to think that way. I was like, ‘oh my god, we love the Simpsons, and here’s this guy in the Kwik-E-Mart, and we know all the songs and stuff’. But now it’s like, ‘wow’. That’s how small our imagination was. In Short Circuit 2, you have this dude … who isn’t even brown. He’s doing brown face, but we all loved it. Because that was the only time we ever saw ourselves.”
Tariq started out working in advertising in the mid-noughties, as a copywriter at agencies including BBDO and Saatchi & Saatchi, before becoming a writer and filmmaker. He emphasises that entry into the ad industry can be challenging for people of colour, citing – in the US at least – its low pay and lack of health insurance as major barriers. “You don’t have the privilege of thinking, ‘OK, cool, for the first five or six years I’m going to work my dick off’,” he says. “You don’t have that because you have to send money back to your parents. Particularly when you’re a working class person of colour, an immigrant – you gotta send money home, so you can’t just worry about yourself.”