How Fifa created an ‘authentic, non-voyeuristic’ portrait of a British Muslim community
Fifa’s Midnight Ramadan League campaign is a step forward for two industries – advertising and professional football – that have long failed in their portrayal of British Asians.
EA Sports’ campaign for Fifa 21, created by Adam & Eve / DDB, debuted Friday, April 23 on Channel 4 after winning the broadcaster’s annual diversity in advertising award. The 2020 theme of the competition was the representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic groups in advertising and the winning campaign received £ 1million in commercial airtime.
The Fifa ad features the Midnight Ramadan League, a real grassroots football club based in Birmingham. The league was created in 2018 by Obayed Hussain with the Saltley Stallions Football Club to help Muslims continue to play football during the month of Ramadan. Matches are held every Friday and Saturday evening between Iftar (the evening meal with which Muslims break the daily fast) and Suhoor (the morning meal before the fast).
In the movie, a real Midnight Ramadan League player named Qaiser prays and breaks the fast at home with his family before going out for a night time match. When his energy wanes, he receives a visit from a professional football hero, Leicester City midfielder and Fifa Ambassador Hamza Choudhury, who encourages him: “If I can do it, so do you.”
Qaiser gets up and after his team’s victory rushes home to play with his little sister, who also loves football.
The campaign is significant because the representation of British Asians in professional football is woefully lacking. In 2020, only 10 (or 0.25%) of the UK’s 4,000 professional footballers were British Asians, compared to 7% of the general population. The figure of professional leagues is also out of sync with recreational football; British Asians make up 9.7% of people in the UK who play recreational football.
“We were like, how is that possible? I’m Pakistani and all the boys in my family and community love football, but if I had to name a Pakistani footballer I couldn’t do it, ”says Selma Ahmed, creator of A&E / DDB, who has writes Fifa advertising. . “If you have a generation that doesn’t see themselves on the football field or see no one like themselves, how are they supposed to aspire to it?”
The advertising industry also often neglects to represent and speak to Asians and British Muslims. While some brands such as Tesco have sometimes portrayed Muslims, “in the UK Muslims are portrayed on television in such a special way,” Ahmed observes. “It all looks so cliché, like through the lens of a white person.”
This is why, with the Fifa brief, the A&E / DDB team decided to tackle this problem and have a “really authentic, not voyeuristic” campaign, says Ahmed.
The agency brought in a director, Bassam Tariq, known for his realistic and raw portrayals of Muslim cultures. He co-wrote his first feature film of 2020, Mogul Mowgli, with actor and musical artist Riz Ahmed, who also stars in the film about a British Pakistani rapper struggling with an autoimmune disease.
“When I looked Mogul Mowgliit was like being at home, ”says Ahmed. “[Tariq] is someone who is part of the culture and understands it completely. “
Tariq also noticed something different in the Fifa storyline: he didn’t hesitate to paint an authentic and rich portrait of an Asian community, he says.
“I was very scared because you don’t often get something like this. It’s such a gift and you want to make sure you can honor it. I couldn’t wait to know how to do this correctly, ”says Tariq. “[A&E/DDB] were really awesome and pushed me to make sure we were as authentic as possible.
This authenticity shines through in every detail of the ad, from the casting to the food the family eats in one of the first scenes – the mother had actually cooked these dishes for Iftar before the scene was filmed, Genevieve Gransden. , artistic director of A&E / DDB points out. In addition to starring in the Midnight Ramadan League, Qaiser was filmed in his own home with his real family.
“We needed this family to feel like a real dynamic. We were in Birmingham, where they live, ”says Ahmed. “All those little decisions – where on another shoot we could have built a set, for example – made a difference.”
“We’ve all worked on shoots where we can’t make any statements and everything is tightly controlled, but EA gave us so much room on this project. They really made us proud until the end of the edit, ”adds Gransden.
Other candid moments, such as when the family prays together, were key to fully capturing the characters and their community, Tariq says.
“Representing prayer was really important. This is what people usually avoid because all of these little symbols of authenticity and faith are quite loaded. But depriving people of that is also taking them away from who they are, ”he says. “For brands, being open and accepting this is so important.”
A key difference in this campaign was to ensure that the diversity of the people working behind the scenes also reflected the diversity on screen. Early in the process, A & E / DDB met with Pulse Films, the production company, and asked that “as many people as possible be of color on set,” says Ahmed.
Much of the team that worked on the ad – including two of Fifa’s clients, music composer Ben Khan, film editor Fouad Gaber and even the runners on set – came from an Asian background. .
“Being on set and not being a minority has been one of the most refreshing experiences of my life. It makes no sense to look around and only see dark people – it was like being at home, ”says Ahmed. “I thought, that’s what it must be like to be white in this industry.”
The behind-the-scenes diversity allowed the team to challenge each other and make sure nothing in the ad didn’t sound fake or cliché. For example, when Tariq was considering a certain song, Ahmed pointed out to him that it sounded more Indian, which would not have been suitable because the family depicted was Pakistani. “All of these subtle differences matter,” she says.
“Throughout my career I’ve worked on predominantly white sets and that means I’m often seen as an ‘expert on the community’, which is also dangerous,” says Tariq. “But when you have so much diversity compared to other people who can challenge you, it opened my eyes to how I could do things differently.”
He calls the result of their collective efforts “shameless Muslim business.”
Beyond the TV commercial, the campaign will extend to a comic book about the life of Hamza Choudhury that will be distributed to schools, as well as the Midnight Ramadan League kit, flags and other assets. Fifa players can use it in their games.
Its main goal is to “create a whole new set of models,” says Ahmed, “so that more people can see themselves and be inspired.”
The work has already inspired Qaiser, the teenager who stars in commercials, in an unexpected way. At the end of the shoot, he told some of the creatives on set, “I had no idea what work it was. [of making ads] existed ””, recalls Ahmed. “He said he told all his friends in Birmingham. Now he’s going to do some running work for a great director.
“I was exactly the same eight years ago,” she continues. “The advertising industry is so closed. That’s why it’s so important to open up these little opportunities for people – and then to value their experience when they enter the industry. “