Middle Eastern actors ignored, stereotyped by US TV, study finds
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Middle Eastern actors ignored, stereotyped by US TV, study finds

Only 1 percent of regularly seen American television actors have roots in countries such as Egypt, Turkey and Israel, despite making up about 3% of the population

From left, executive producers Howard Gordon and Gideon Raff and cast members Adam Rayner, Jennifer Finnigan, Ashraf Barhom, Moran Atias and Justin Kirk participate in the "Tyrant" panel at the FX Winter TCA Press Tour, on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at the Langham Huntington, in Pasadena, Calif. (Photo by Phil McCarten/Invision for FOX/AP Images)
From left, executive producers Howard Gordon and Gideon Raff and cast members Adam Rayner, Jennifer Finnigan, Ashraf Barhom, Moran Atias and Justin Kirk participate in the "Tyrant" panel at the FX Winter TCA Press Tour, on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at the Langham Huntington, in Pasadena, Calif. (Photo by Phil McCarten/Invision for FOX/AP Images)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Actors and characters of Middle Eastern and North African descent are either ignored by TV or stereotyped, according to a new study.

The few such actors who get work are largely confined to playing tyrants and terrorists, said the university-funded study released Monday.

One percent of regularly seen TV series actors have roots in countries including Egypt, Turkey and Israel. But estimates show about 3 percent of the US population, 10 million people, are from the region, said the study’s lead author, Biola University associate professor Nancy Wang Yuen.

Researchers who examined 242 scripted prime-time series on broadcast, cable and streaming during the 2015-16 season found that from 90 to 97 percent had no characters of Middle Eastern or North African ethnicity.

When those characters do appear, 78% are tyrants or trained terrorists, agents or soldiers, the study said. Most speak with obvious foreign accents.

This combination photo shows, from left, Egyptian-American actor Rami Malek, who stars on ‘Mr. Robot,’ Turkish-American actor Ennis Esmer, who stars in ‘Red Oaks,’ and Iranian-American actress Necar Zadegan, who stars in ‘Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce.’ (AP Photo)

Ninety percent of shows with such characters feature just one — with the now-ended “Tyrant,” a drama set in the Middle East, among the exceptions.

The study warned that such depictions can contribute to the rise of anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant sentiment in American society.

Three instances were described as “exemplary” in the report: Iranian-American actress Necar Zadegan’s portrayal of an attorney on Bravo’s “Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce,” the cyber-security engineer played by Egyptian-American (and Emmy-winning) actor Rami Malek on “Mr. Robot” and a tennis pro on Amazon’s “Red Oaks” played by Turkish-American actor Ennis Esmer.

“His ethnicity doesn’t define the role, and he gets to be a full person aside from that, and in fact because of that,” Esmer said of his character in a statement.

The entertainment industry as a whole must seek change, the study said. It recommended steps including the hiring and mentoring of Middle East and North African actors, directors, executives and others.

The study cited the work of actress Azita Ghanizada, who founded an advocacy coalition that successfully lobbied Hollywood guilds to include Middle East and North African performers in casting data reports.

The study received funding from schools including Biola University in La Mirada, California; California State University Fullerton; and San Jose State University, along with CBS Entertainment Diversity.

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