Aziz Ansari just brilliantly called out Hollywood's diversity problem
If you’re like us, you spent the weekend binge watching Aziz Ansari’s excellent new Netflix show, Master of None. If that’s not the case, we highly recommend you do!
Why? Well, for one, the show’s cast is refreshingly diverse: Ansari’s actual parents make appearances and his character, Dev, is surrounded by a veritable cornucopia of supporting characters from a black lesbian to an All-American guy who just happens to be Asian. What’s more, through Dev’s career as a struggling actor, Ansari uses Master of None as a platform for commentary on Hollywood’s glaring diversity problem.
In a thought-provoking op-ed for the New York Times, Aziz Ansari took an even deeper dive into the issue. He discusses how his first exposure to Indian people in television and film was through the 1988 film, Short Circuit 2, which featured an Indian scientist as the lead character. But, as Ansari points out, it wasn’t until he was much older that he discovered that the movie’s main character, Benjamin Jarhvi, had been played by a white actor in “Indian face.”
“Seeing an Indian character in a lead role had a powerful effect on me, but it was only as I got older that I realized what an anomaly it was,” Ansari writes. “I rarely saw any Indians on TV or film, except for brief appearances as a cabdriver or a convenience store worker literally servicing white characters who were off to more interesting adventures.”
Ansari points out that though things have changed since the tone-deaf days of Short Circuit 2, especially for a young Indian actor and comedian such as himself, he still feels there aren’t nearly enough roles that fit the new diversity standard he’d like to see.
“[W]hen my phone rings, the roles I’m offered are often defined by ethnicity and often require accents,” he continues, highlighting the fact that less than 20% of lead roles on cable TV went to minorities in 2013. “And whatever progress toward diversity we are making, the percentage of minorities playing lead roles is still painfully low.”
So, what is at the heart of this problem and how can we solve it? First, Hollywood needs to confront its painfully narrow definition of what makes someone fit to fill a lead role.
“Even at a time when minorities account for almost 40 percent of the American population, when Hollywood wants an ‘everyman,’ what it really wants is a straight white guy,” Ansari says. “But a straight white guy is not every man. The ‘everyman’ is everybody.”
Just look to the casting of Arnold Schwarzenegger as evidence that American audiences really don’t care who’s playing a character if the story is compelling enough.
“There had to be someone who heard his name tossed around for the [Terminator] role and thought: Wait, why would the robot have an Austrian accent? No one’s gonna buy that…audiences will be confused,” Ansari jokes. “Nope. They weren’t. Because, you know what? No one really cares.”
Agreed. Read the entire op-ed here.
[Images via Instagram]