Aziz Ansari stopped cracking jokes for a moment to open up about a serious issue: Hollywood’s diversity problem.
The “Master of None” star wrote a New York Times essay criticizing the entertainment industry for making a “straight white guy” the go-to “everyman.”
“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 wrote. “But a straight white guy is not every man. The ‘everyman’ is everybody.”
In the essay, Ansari noted that only 16.7 percent of lead film roles went to minorities. In broadcast TV, only 6.5 percent of lead roles went to nonwhites in the 2012-13 season. In cable, minorities got 19.3 percent of the roles.
The comedian said that while he was like looking for an Asian actor for “Masters of None,” the co-creator of the show, Alan Yang, asked him how many times he had seen an Asian guy kiss someone on screen. After some thought, both could only come up with two actors: Steven Yeun on “The Walking Dead” and Daniel Dae Kim on “Lost.”
Ansari said that despite all of his success, he’s still type cast.
“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 wrote.
Ansari pointed to other concerning examples: In “The Social Network,” the Indian-American Harvard student Divya Narendra was played by a half-Chinese, half-Italian British actor; In “The Martian,” the Indian character in the book named Venkat Kapoor became Vincent in the film, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor.
His awareness on this issue was sparked when he decided to research an Indian actor who had starred in 1998’s “Short Circuit 2.” It turned out it wasn’t an Indian actor at all, but a white man named Fisher Stevens who had been cast to play the role in brownface.
Ansari sees himself as proof that the “straight white guy” persona should no longer be limited to white guys, considering his “Parks and Recreation” character — which launched his now booming career –was just that.
“So if you’re a straight white guy, do the industry a solid and give minorities a second look,” he wrote, and cited Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s breakthrough “Terminator” role as one that could have easily gone to a typical American actor.
“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?” he wrote. “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.”