aziz ansari: is hollywood trying hard enough to promote diversity?
The comedian and creator of Netflix’s hyped new series Master of None has a pretty depressing story about his first ‘Indian’ screen hero.
Hollywood does diversity really badly, this we know. In 2013, only 16.7% of lead roles were played by non-white actors, despite accounting for almost 40% of the population, and TV roles were even more white, with just 6.5% of lead roles taken by non-white actors. These stats come from the African American Studies center at UCLA, and are quoted by the writer, comedian and new Netflix star Aziz Ansari in a personal polemic on diversity in Hollywood published in the NYT.
The situation is still pretty bleak, but it's better than it used to be, as an anecdote about Ansari's first screen hero shows. Inspired to find out more about the Indian lead in the 80s film Short Circuit 2, whose presence had had "a powerful effect" on Ansari as a young aspiring, he look him up on IMDB one day at college… only to find out it was a white guy 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'," Ansari laments.
He's even come up with a fun-bleak game to play with show adverts: "When you look at posters for movies or TV shows, see if it makes sense to switch the title to "What's Gonna Happen to This White Guy?" (Forrest Gump, The Martian, Black Mass) or if there's a woman in the poster, too, "Are These White People Gonna Have Sex With Each Other?" (Casablanca, When Harry Met Sally, The Notebook)".
He may be the creator and star of the hyped new Netflix series Master of None, but Ansari says that good roles for Indian actors can be hard to come by: "Even though I've sold out Madison Square Garden as a standup comedian and have appeared in several films and a TV series, when my phone rings, the roles I'm offered are often defined by ethnicity and often require accents," he says.
Ansari notes some instances when films have sought out Indian actors, only to find scheduling clashes prevent them from being cast, as well as noting how hard it was to cast an Asian character for his own series, but he emphasises to the industry: "I still wonder if we are trying hard enough".
To anyone who thinks it would be weird to cast a non-white actor in certain roles, he says, simply: "Arnold Schwarzenegger," explaining, that "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".
Text Charlotte Gush