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Riz Ahmed Is Now The First Asian Man To Win An Acting Emmy

He won for his performance on the HBO limited series The Night Of.

On Sunday night, actor Riz Ahmed made history by becoming the first man of Asian descent to win an Emmy Award for acting.

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Only one actor of Asian descent had ever won an acting Emmy before: The Good Wife's Archie Panjabi won Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in 2010. 😬

Ahmed won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series for his portrayal of Nasir "Naz" Khan in The Night Of, a young Pakistani college student who becomes embroiled in a homicide investigation and is sent to Rikers Island Prison Complex after a night of partying.


The show in part tackles xenophobia through depicting Naz and his family during the investigation and trial.

"I want to say it is always strange reaping the rewards of a story based on real-world suffering," Ahmed said in his Emmys 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 is something."

Steve Granitz / WireImage

He added: "I want to shout out to South Asian Youth Action for helping me prepare for this and The Innocence Project."


In the Emmys press room after his win, Ahmed said: "I don’t know if any one person’s win of an award, or one person snagging one role, or one person doing very well changes something that’s a systemic issue ... I think that’s something that happens slowly over time."

Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images

"In terms of US and the UK, I’m really proud to be a Londoner. I’m really proud to be from the UK. I’m also really aware that actors of color often have more opportunity in the US, but I think ultimately now we see that TV in particular is a global medium," he said. "People are streaming shows or watching them all around the world. Hopefully we’ll see a globalization of our storytelling."

Ahmed has been very vocal about how the representation of minorities can shift negative perspectives, so the Emmy win was another big step for him as both an actor and activist.

Claudia Tambasco / Via

In a speech to the House of Commons in London earlier this year, the British-Pakistani actor made his case for representation of ethnic minorities in media. "If we fail to represent, we are in danger of losing people to extremism," he said. "People are looking for the message that they belong, that they are part of something, that they are seen and heard and that despite, or perhaps because of, their experience, they are valued. They want to feel represented. In that task, we have failed."


This post has been updated to note that Ahmed said "Islamophobia" in his acceptance speech. An earlier version misquoted him.


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