Indians on TV

I finished watching Aziz Ansari’s TV show “Master of None” on Netflix a while ago. I loved his character on Parks and Recreation, and the message put across in this new show makes me love it just as much. Aziz Ansari is not afraid to call society out on it’s issues, and that’s why my favorite episode is “Indians on TV.”

In this episode, Dev (played by Aziz Ansari) is confronting the issue of race head on as he tries to land a lead role on a TV show with another Indian actor. A TV executive says “there can only be one” sparking a debate about the representation of Indians on TV and the arbitrary number of Indian actors allowed before it’s known as an “Indian show.” According to the white executives, there can only be one Indian character in order for the show to be popular in mainstream media.

This episode has got me thinking about the lack of representation I see in our media of Indian people. Masters of None does a great job of not only including many Indian characters, but also an overall diverse cast. However, this show is an anomaly. Off the top of my head I can only think of a few Indian characters in TV shows that are popular in the US; Mindy Lahiri from The Mindy Project and Cece from New Girl. There are probably more that I’m missing, but these are the only two that jump out at me right now. As you can see, there is a huge problem with the amount of non-stereotypical Indians on TV right now, which is why I was glad to see Priyanka Chopra land a spot on FOX networks Quantico. Not only did she land a spot on TV, but she landed the leading role. As an Indian American I love seeing her on TV. I grew up in California speaking English, so to see Chopra’s character on Quantico live a life not defined by her heritage is refreshing because it’s so relatable.

Besides these few characters, there is normally no one in the media to represent people like me, which I honestly didn’t think was a big deal until I started watching videos on YouTube. I’ve been interested in beauty videos, watching lots of makeup and hair tutorials. I find watching them interesting, but trying to recreate the looks is nearly impossible because most of the people I watch are white. When I try makeup that they recommended or try to recreate a hair style I love on them, I have to remember that my skin color is darker than theirs and my hair is darker and thicker. It’s discouraging to have no one to look to, no one to represent my body type or skin tone.

I recently saw this article on Buzzfeed about PoC, female, and LGBTQ+, representation in the media. The article showed the positive effects of diverse representation on people growing up surrounded by a lack of representation. I loved reading this post and seeing everyone’s comments about how seeing themselves represented on TV had the biggest impact on their younger selves.

However, it made me realize yet again, that the progress of representation doesn’t extend to Indians. The progress that has been made is great, but it hasn’t gotten to the point where I can see myself reflected across multiple media sources, like TV, movies, etc.

I brought this up to my dad once and told him that everything in the media is focused on white or black people. I said I wanted to see Indian people in advertisements, commercials, magazines, etc. He responded by saying something along the lines of “it’s best to stay out of the spotlight.”

At the time I agreed with this line of thinking, because flying under the radar is so much safer. After seeing this Buzzfeed article, though, I realized how much I want to see someone like me on TV. It’s one thing to be tolerated, but it’s an entirely different feeling to be welcomed. I want to relate to the kids in the Buzzfeed article who are empowered when they see people like them in American movies. Growing up, I didn’t see Indian actors unless I was watching an Indian movie.

Everyone deserves to feel like they belong, and the only way to do that is to actually include them in the media.

I identify as American, but my foreign heritage will continue to marginalize me and people like me until action is taken in the media to mirror what America is really like. America is not made up of all white people and a token black or asian person, it’s a diverse country that is not accurately represented in the media, no matter how far we’ve come within the past decade.

Let me know what impacts representation in the media has had on you, I would love to hear it.

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