As soon as the 2017 Golden Globes nominees were announced, I scanned the list and was pleasantly surprised by a certain discovery: HBO's summer cult-favorite, The Night Of, received three nominations. Then again, I shouldn't have been too shocked, given the captivating nature of the eight-episode miniseries. Riz Ahmed scored a Golden Globes nom for Best Actor in a Miniseries or TV Film for playing lead character, Nasir "Naz" Khan. His co-star, John Turturro, landed in the same category. While they're both talented and compelling onscreen, I'm rooting for Ahmed, simply because the show revolved around his character and it wouldn't have been the same without him. And honestly, even if he doesn't take home the trophy, Ahmed already won the Globes before they began.
No, technically that's not possible — there are no trophies given prior to the ceremony on Jan. 8. Instead, I mean that Ahmed had a breakout year in Hollywood, making him victorious regardless. Not only did he star as Naz on The Night Of, but he appeared in Jason Bourne and played pilot Bodhi Rook in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. As he told Bustle in Dec. 2016, he's quite proud of the latter role. "Bodhi is an average Joe... And yet he can make a difference because he stands up for what he believes in, takes a risk, makes a sacrifice," Ahmed said. "That's, I think, a strong message and that's what I'm proud of for sure."
Those aren't the only ways that the 34-year-old permeated pop culture in the past year. His rap duo, Swet Shop Boys, released an album called Cashmere, and they became a voice speaking out against Islamophobia. Their track "T5" is a straightforward rap about racial profiling at airports. Its accompanying music video is equally eye-opening. Plus, he penned a poignant essay called "Typecast as a Terrorist" for The Good Immigrant, which was excerpted in The Guardian.
Throughout 2016, Ahmed not only starred in major blockbusters (and even Netflix's new series, The OA), but he became an outspoken voice against injustice — as seen in his essay, as well as his music. This doesn't make him all that different from his Rogue One character who, as he said, "stands up for what he believes in." The British-Pakistani actor is simultaneously speaking out about social issues, while adding to representation onscreen — portraying complex, not stereotypical roles. During a July interview with The Guardian, Ahmed said he hoped The Night Of would "make people look into the criminal justice system more deeply and question their own prejudices."
It's also worth noting that Ahmed isn't a newcomer in the industry. In 2012, he starred opposite Kate Hudson in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a movie based on the novel of the same name. Then in 2014, he played Jake Gyllenhaal's apprehensive, camera-wielding intern in Nightcrawler. But it wasn't until The Night Of that he truly made a splash in mainstream media and solidified his place in the spotlight.
The show's thrilling aspects and ongoing mystery fostered active discussions amongst fans every week. In between episodes, I'd find myself reading post after post on Reddit, whether theories about the deer head's symbolism or debates about Naz's potential innocence. Ahmed played a character who may not have said much, but his actions and body language spoke volumes. It was such a nuanced, powerful portrayal that I constantly flip-flopped between whether Naz was guilty or telling the truth. Like I said earlier, he's what made the show such a hit.
The fact that Ahmed will be at the Golden Globes is a testament to his ever-growing star power, making him a winner regardless of the actual outcome. Still, I'm obviously rooting for him to take home that trophy. And even if his pal Turturro snags the award instead, I'd be OK with it. Just seeing The Night Of get the recognition it deserves would be a milestone worth celebrating. And HBO, if you're listening, please roll out a Season 2 ASAP.