For the past seven decades, American television had never seen a South Asian man recognized for his talent on screen — that is, until Sunday night’s 69th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards.
British actor and rapper Riz Ahmed made history as the first South Asian man (he’s Pakistani) and Muslim to take home an Emmy Award, for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for his role in HBO’s “The Night Of.” In the series, he plays Nasir “Naz” Khan, a Pakistani college student from Queens who is wrongly accused of murdering a girl on the Upper West Side in New York City.
Ahmed’s win was seen as an overdue victory for South Asians and Muslims, especially as “The Night Of” addresses issues of race and Islamophobia.
“It’s always strange reaping the rewards of a story that’s based on real world suffering,” Ahmed said in his acceptance speech. “But if this show has shown a light on some of the prejudice in our society, Islamophobia, some of the injustice in our justice system, then maybe that’s something.”
Before Ahmed’s win, there was only one other star of South Asian descent who won an acting award — Archie Panjabi in 2010, when she won the award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series as Kalinda Sharma in “The Good Wife.”
Ahmed wasn’t the only one who made breakthroughs Sunday night: Donald Glover, also known as Childish Gambino, became the first black winner of the Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series for “Atlanta”; Lena Waithe became the first black woman to win Outstanding Writer for a Comedy Series for the Netflix comedy “Master of None”; and Aziz Ansari, who stars in and co-writes for “Master of None,” also shared the win.