(An essay I submitted for my English Class five years ago)
American media is infamous for the lack of diversity in its characters. The ethnicities and cultures that thrive in America are so many, and yet they are all extremely underrepresented in Hollywood. When represented, characters fall into predetermined labels and stereotypes that usually end up making the characters seem flat and depthless. Indian characters in American media are always portrayed as the annoying sidekicks, who may either startle everyone with their brains or bore them with the Indian accent.
Most American sitcoms and movies deal with the life of the average American, who is almost always shown as a white Caucasian male, when, in reality, there exists a large plethora of ethnicities and backgrounds to choose from. There are several instances where white people have been made to look like people of other races, which ends up unintentionally mocking and insulting the race in question. An example of such an instance would be Mr. Yunioshi from Breakfast at Tiffany’s played by an American comedian Mick Rooney. This character received lots of criticism for the unrealistic portrayal of Chinese people. The Indian man in Short Circuit was played by Steve Fisher, another white man with a ridiculous ‘Indian’ accent.
Netflix’s Master of None is one such television show that defies these stereotypes. With comedian Aziz Ansari in the lead role, this show focuses on the personal and professional life of a struggling actor, Dev Shah, being the first ever man of Indian descent to play the protagonist of an American show. The show highlights the troubles of being an Indian actor in New York. It showcases themes of racism and equality in a subtle way and could be considered as a path to slowly eradicate the problem of representation in Hollywood. It also throws light on the lives of those immigrants who left their country to move to America and adjust to the life.
In the episode ‘Indians on TV’, Dev tries out for the part of the cab driver in an audition, but he is not chosen for it because he refuses to do an Indian accent for his role because he believes that it is degrading to Indians all over the world. Later in the episode, Dev gets the opportunity to star in a sitcom, but the director has trouble in choosing between him and his other friend. When Dev approaches the director because of a leaked e-mail with racial slurs against Dev, Dev asks the question that is on all our minds- Why can’t there be two Indians in the lead? The reply of the Director is that having two Indians as lead characters will not cater to the mainstream audience. Dev protests to this idea, however, he is not able to convince the director. The episode is an insight to the brutal racism that takes place in the country.
The rest of the episodes also consist of similar themes and talk about Dev’s romantic affairs with Rachel- their romance is subtle and realistic. Ironically, the cast of Master of None are all from different races, but Dev’s girlfriends are all white. Apart from this, the show is full of laughter, goodness and truth.
The show is an excellent example of the fact that not all sitcoms have to be about white people to be popular or widely accepted. The world has come to such a point that it is integral to incorporate people all around the world in every line of work. Representation must be done keeping in mind the sentiments of every race and the culture of several audiences.
Most Indians are cast as IT Professionals, Doctors, Scientists, or store owners, when in reality, Indians now dominate every sphere of work in The United States. It is now time that American media begins to realise the importance of representation of every ethnicity there is, because only with awareness, will there come an urge within people for the need to change.
Netflix’s Master of None