Nov 11, 2015 9:28PM
Aziz Ansari Puts Hollywood's Racism On Blast
Aziz Ansari released his clever and funny Netflix series Master of None last week. The show is topically hilarious in its take on modern dating, but it also discusses the racism that is casually hanging out in Hollywood (and life in general) in a lighthearted but also :( way. Really makes you think.
On the show, he calls out The Social Network for casting a half-Chinese, half-British actor as Indian-American, and Short Circuit 2 for casting actual white dude with brown make up on his face, Fisher Stevens, to play the Indian scientist Ben Jahveri. Whaaat?!
But that's just the tip. Yesterday, he penned an essay for the New York Times and really let it rip. He talks about how liberating it was to see an Indian lead character in Short Circuit 2, with a Caucasian love interest, in the 80s. But then:
"One day in college, I decided to go on the television and film website IMDB to see what happened to the Indian actor from Short Circuit 2. Turns out, the Indian guy was a white guy. The character was played by Mr. Stevens, a Caucasian actor in brownface. Rather than cast an Indian actor, the filmmakers had Mr. Stevens sit every morning in a makeup chair and get painted an 'Indian colour' before going on set and doing his 'Indian voice.' As a child, I thought the villain of the film was Oscar Baldwin, the banker who tricks Johnny 5 into helping him commit a jewel heist. As an adult, I thought the bad guy was actually Mr. Stevens, who mocked my ethnicity."
And on more recent films such as The Social Network (which he auditioned for) and The Martian (which he was asked to audition for, but "skimmed the script and — no offense — it seemed like a boring movie about a white guy stuck on Mars for two hours who gets fired up about plants, so it didn't seem worth taking a break from my own projects."):
"These days, Indian people, real Indian people, pop up way more in film and television, but fake Indians are still around more than you think. I loved The Social Network, but 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. 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. (The Indian actor Irrfan Khan was reportedly in talks to take the role, but couldn't because of a scheduling conflict.)"
He generously gives credit to Hollywood for "trying", but still questions if they're trying hard enough (spoiler alert: they aren't). He summarises his piece perfectly, with some encouraging truths:
"And to anyone worried that it may be 'weird' to cast someone who looks a certain way to play a certain part, because it's not what people are used to, I say: Arnold Schwarzenegger.
It's true. Arnold Schwarzenegger is an unsung pioneer for minority actors. Look at The Terminator: There had to be someone who heard his name tossed around for the role and thought: Wait, why would the robot have an Austrian accent? No one's gonna buy that! We gotta get a robot that has an American accent! Just get a white guy from the States. Audiences will be confused. Nope. They weren't. Because, you know what? No one really cares."
Read the full piece here.