Have you seen my new TV show Master of None? Okay, it actually belongs to Aziz Ansari but ever since the comedy hit Netflix this month, I’ve been hit with a barrage of questions: “Have you seen Master of None?” or “What’s up with your man, Aziz Ansari?” For the record, I am not related to, dating or have dated this man. My personal favorite, being stopped by a stranger in the cookie aisle at CVS Pharmacy—while I was on the phone—and questioned whether I’ve seen it. The cookie aisle. While on the phone.
Master of None follows the personal and professional life of comedian Aziz Ansari and touches upon, among other things, Hollywood’s major problem with diversity. “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,” he says in an article in the New York Times. “But a straight white guy is not every man. The “everyman” is everybody.”
Aziz is one of the most successful Indians in entertainment. He’s starred in Parks & Recreation, hangs in music videos with Jay Z and Kanye West, penned a romantic memoir and sold out Madison Square Garden in New York City, twice. Still, as an Indian American actor, he knows first-hand what it’s like to be typecast in stereotypical roles as a heavily-accented cab driver, convenience store owner or, if a show is really progressive, a doctor.
Hollywood has had a historically strained relationship with Indians. Aside from Slumdog Millionaire, which was shot in Bombay and starred Indian actors, the roles have been far and few between. Ben Kingsley, who’s half-Indian, played the title role in 1982’s Gandhi, while the Indian character in Short Circuit 2 was played by a white guy in brown face. Even clearly Indian characters played by Indians are often de-browned, so to speak. Aziz’s goofball on Parks & Recreation was named “Tom Haverford,” Mindy Kaling was “Kelly Kapoor” on The Office, while Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra plays an FBI recruit named Alex Parrish (the least Indian name of all time) on Quantico.
With Master of None, Aziz is using his platform to break down stereotypes and change the face of Hollywood. He may be the first Indian American celebrity actually speaking out to have a very real and very important conversation. I get why everyone asks whether I’ve seen his show—it’s a necessary show to watch. Over the next few weeks, I’ll delve into these issues of diversity from the perspective of an Indian-American woman in entertainment. Who knows? If everything goes well, maybe Aziz will read this and hire me on Master of None. Everyone already thinks that we’re cousins.