Aziz Ansari discusses race in Hollywood: an Indian actor was an anomaly

Ace stand-up comedian writes thought essay for The New York Times.

By Raif KareratAziz_ansari

Following the literal overnight success of Aziz Ansari’s new comedy, “Master of None,” the comedian, actor, and author has penned an insightful essay for The New York Times that examines race in Hollywood through the lens of an Indian American who has established himself as a staple of current pop-culture.

Ansari recalls the first time he saw an Indian character in an American movie for the first time thanks to “Short Circuit 2,” a 1988 film in which a robot named Johnny 5 embarks on an ill-conceived but heartwarming slew of hijinks with an Indian scientist named Benjamin Jarhvi.

The film had a powerful impact on him, but as he got older Ansari realized an Indian in Western media film actually more of an anomaly than he previously realized. In college, Ansari experienced even more of a paradigm shift when he discovered the character of Jarhvi was played by a white actor in brownface makeup and armed with a slapstick Indian accent.

He goes on to admit that “real Indian people” do have more of a presence in mainstream media, but there is still plenty of fakers.

“I have a hard time understanding why the Indian-American Harvard student Divya Narendra was played by Max Minghella, a half-Chinese, half-Italian British actor.” wrote Ansari. “More recently, “The Martian” was based on a novel with an Indian character named Venkat Kapoor, who in the film became Vincent, a character portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor, a British actor of Nigerian origin.”

Ansari also emphatically underscores that fact that in 2013, according to a recent report produced by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at U.C.L.A., only 16.7 percent of lead film roles went to minorities.

Broadcast TV was worse, with only 6.5 percent of lead roles going to nonwhites in the 2012-13 season. In cable, minorities did better, getting 19.3 percent of the roles.

Ansari concludes his piece by musing over the creation of “Master of None,” which has been a hit with critics and fans alike.

“… I wouldn’t be in the position to do any of this, and neither would Alan [Yang], unless some straight white guy, in this case Mike Schur, had given us jobs on ‘Parks and Recreation.’ Without that opportunity, we wouldn’t have developed the experience necessary to tell our stories,” he acknowledges. “So if you’re a straight white guy, do the industry a solid and give minorities a second look.”

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