Anyone who’s watched Aziz Ansari’s new Netflix show Master of None (if you haven’t seen it, I’m sure I won’t be the first person to tell you it is amusing, insightful and unique and you should watch it immediately) knows he has a lot to say on the topic of race and Hollywood. And, as this op ed Ansari wrote for The New York Times proves, Ansari has even more to say on the topic than the show allows.
He opens with an anecdote about an actor named Fisher Stevens, who, as you may infer from his name, is not an indian man, but he plays one on film. In the movie Short Circuit 2 (I wasn’t even aware there was a first Short Circuit ) Fisher plays Benjamin Jarhvi, an Indian scientist. It was a portrayal that inspired a young Ansari, given that Indians rarely have lead roles on film and television. Unfortunately, as it turned out (sorry for already spoiling this surprise) the actor was not Indian IRL and the whole thing ended up being extremely offensive. This anecdote actually makes its way into the writer/actor/director’s show as well.
But perhaps what’s most interesting about Ansari’s essay is when he discusses the difficulties that came with casting characters of various ethnicities for his own show.
“I had to cast an Asian actor for ‘Master of None,’ and it was hard. When you cast a white person, you can get anything you want: “You need a white guy with red hair and one arm? Here’s six of ’em!” But for an Asian character, there were startlingly fewer options, and with each of them, something was off. Some had the right look but didn’t have comedy chops. Others were too young or old.”
He also notes that every time he’s had a stunt double, it has been a white man that has had to “brown up.”
Anyway, Ansari’s essay says all this and more and it’s worth reading for, well, everyone. And it’s nice to see an actor writing an op ed for The Times that isn’t James Franco.