You'd think having critically-acclaimed television roles, stand-up specials in increasingly-large venues and a best-selling book would give Aziz Ansari all the leverage he needs in his career.
But, as the Indian-American comedian and actor explained, Hollywood's endemic racism still makes its way into everything he does. After a screening of his upcoming Netflix series "Master of None" at New York City's EW Fest this Saturday, he spoke heavy truths about the state of Hollywood and how it has impacted his career.
The series, co-created by and starring Ansari as a 30-year-old actor making his mark in New York, features Ansari's own parents as the parents to his character—a decision he says he made in part because of Hollywood having so few Indian-American actors:
It’s not a demo with a ton of options. And that makes sense. They’re not like, "Oh, should we cast Ryan Gosling, or what about this old Indian guy?"
Ansari also talked about a montage of Hollywood scenes included in the show that portray Indians as barbaric and weird:
[In one episode,] you see a montage of every Indian character that I remember seeing growing up. And it’s just: gas station, gas station, gas station, gas station, weird guy from Indiana Jones who eats brains, Zack Morris making some sort of curry joke. And it ends with Ashton Kutcher’s Pop Chips commercial where he dons brownface and is a Bollywood producer named Raj.
He also brought up the reality of Hollywood's racial quotas, "Empire" and how his series was created in part because nobody else would have offered it to him:
That’s a real thing that happens. When they cast these shows, they’re like, "We already have our minority guy or our minority girl." There would never be two Indian people in one show. With Asian people, there can be one, but there can't be two. Black people, there can be two, but there can't be three because then it becomes a black show. Gay people, there can be two; women, there can be two; but Asian people, Indian people, there can be one but there can't be two.
Guess what? Every other show is still white people. I think there were ten black actors before "Empire." It’s not like they just found the tenth black actor and were like, "We can finally make 'Empire!'" It’s long overdue.
Look, if you’re a minority actor, no one would have wrote this show for you. No one would have been like, "Hey, how about we get Aziz to do this ten-episode show and have play this thoughtful character." At best, they would just write something that’s a character based on the qualities people have seen already, like Tom [Haverford, his "Parks and Recreation" charecter].
Importantly, Ansari relayed how he turned down a role in the 2007 blockbuster "Transformers" because of its stereotypical and racist caricature of Indians:
It was a role for, like, a call-center guy who has an accent. And I was like, "No, I’m not doing it." And then [friend and co-star] Ravi [Patel] was like, "I’ll do it." And Ravi did it and made some decent money. And I don’t have anything against someone who does the accent. I understand. You got to work, and some people don’t think it’s a problem.
The conversation illuminated much of what Ansari and actors like him have to struggle against when seeking roles—struggles that will also be examined in his new series.
"Master of None" will premiere on Netflix on November 6, with all of its ten episodes made available at the same time. Check out the hilarious trailer below.