British actor and rapper Riz Ahmed made history on Sunday night when he became the first Asian man and first Muslim to take home an Emmy Award for acting.
Ahmed, who was born to British Pakistani parents in Wembley, won over Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert De Niro and Ewan McGregor to take home the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie category for his performance in The Night Of.
Ahmed plays Nasir “Naz” Khan in the HBO-produced drama, which follows the unpicking of a complicated murder case in New York City, in which Khan, a college student, is accused of murdering a girl on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
In his acceptance speech, Ahmed shared his award with his The Night Of co-star John Turturro, and paid tribute to the late James Gandolfini, who spearheaded the project from the beginning and was originally meant to star.
In a press conference afterwards, Ahmed spoke about the wider implications of him winning an Emmy acting award.”I don’t know if one person’s win of an award, one person snagging one role, or one person doing very well, changes something that’s a systemic issue of inclusion in this industry,” he said, “I think that’s something that happens slowly, over time. If there’s enough isolated examples of success then maybe the dots start joining up and it’s not as slow a process as it sometimes is.”
Ahmed’s victory was championed online, including by comedian and writer Meera Syal, who posted on Twitter:
Ahmed was one of four people of colour who won acting awards during Sunday’s awards. Donald Glover, who is also a musician under the name of Childish Gambino, became the first black winner of the Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series for Atlanta, while Lena Waithe became the first black woman to win Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for her input on Netflix comedy Master of None. Her co-writer, Aziz Ansari, who also stars in the series, also took home the gong.
Before Ahmed, the only other person of Asian descent to win an acting Emmy was Archie Panjabi in 2010, who won the award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for her role as Kalinda Sharma in The Good Wife.