Master of None: The Entertainment Industry Reflects Reality
by Jasmine Chen
Aziz Ansari’s Master of None only recently debuted as part of Netflix’s Original Series a few months ago, but the incredible cast has already won “Best Comedy Series” at the 2016 Critics’ Choice Awards. At their acceptance speech, Alan Yang, the show’s co-creator, said: "Thank you to all the straight white guys who dominated movies and TV so hard, and for so long, that stories about anyone else seem kind of fresh and original. Because you guys crushed it for so long, anything else seems kind of different."
Although it appeared a relatively harmless joke, the lighthearted statement points to a much bigger can of issues, one that affirms how the entertainment industry that is Hollywood, is long skewed in the scheme of perspective storytelling. Sure, we had the occasional reason for hullabaloo in the likes of movies such as Slumdog Millionaire in 2008, or even perhaps Life of Pi from 2012, but these movies were the rare exception after scrupulously combing through the ranks of Oscar nominee lists of the past decade. Slumdog Millionaire in particular was thrown into the fray of controversy for its dubious authenticity in the portrayal of India, directed by Danny Boyle, who is British, leading critics to wonder if the film was yet another product of the centuries of foreign exploitation at the hands of Eurocentrism.
The history of American cinema has been so heavily dominated by white filmmakers that all moviegoers had to base their impressions off of all people of other cultures are the likes of Long Duk Dong from Sixteen Candles, or Raj Koothrappali from Big Bang Theory. The key problem here is that these characters are being created by people of another culture, and as a result are a shallow and one-dimensional representation of an entire race or community. There is more to Asians than the nerdy, antisocial kid, the brainless foreign “Chinaman” or Indian with a heavy accent. In fact, the recent #OscarsSoWhite controversy has fired up interesting points on the lack of accurate or appropriate ranges of roles for other people.
An individual’s story is more genuinely told through the eyes of the director or the narrator, yet the members that make up the Academy are predominantly white males. Executives who have the power to greenlight opportunities to people of color hesitate, believing that the audience would not welcome such changes to the screen, yet the recent Star Wars movie, which features a black actor as a major character, broke these notions by breaking all previous films at the box office. Another quick browse through the actors who have been acknowledged by the Academy prove this prejudice to be true, whether or not the voting members of the Academy are aware of it: Denzel Washington from Training Day’s character is a corrupt cop with ties to neighborhoods prone to violence and gang activity, or Viola Davis from The Help is the humble, even subservient maid: why must minorities be portrayed on extremes of any spectrum?
Here is the demography in America: African American population: 13.2%. Asian Americans: 9.2%, and lo and behold, women take up a whole 50% of the population. Considering how the majority of Americans were immigrants at one point of another in their lineage, many of us in the recent decades, it is quite unbelievable that it has taken until 2015 for someone to release a candid story on-screen for us all to sit down to with our families. Master of None is a pioneer is its own right, not only because it composes of a truly diverse cast, but because Ansari and Yang have managed to produce hilarious episodes with intriguing, engaging, and relatable characters while simultaneously telling personal stories from the perspective of regular New Yorkers, particularly Dev Patel who happens to also be a first generation Indian American.
The obligations of the film industry now is not to make sure the voices of minority populations are not drowned out and marginalized, fetishized, or misconstrued by those who are not in a position to convey an authentic story of someone else’s background. Master of None incorporates very real worries of ageism, relationships, while also dedicating themes to the perils women experience trying to walk home without getting harassed, normalizing these experiences. This is the kind of responsible filmmaking we want and need more of. The rise of stars like Aziz Ansari, Mindy Kaling, and brings a much needed discussion on shaping the future of films.