Thanks For Ruining Everything For Brown People, Aziz
WE WERE ALL ROOTING FOR YOU.
The list of men in Hollywood being accused of sexual harassment continues to grow. First, it was the creepy old white men. Then, it was the woke “good guys”. Now, Aziz Ansari — arguably the most famous brown dude in Hollywood — has been accused of sexual misconduct.
As a woman, the victims’ stories have been heartbreaking. As a brown person, the allegations involving Aziz are the most devastating of all.
There Are Hardly Any Brown People On TV
Brown people are starved of representation onscreen, so desperate for a few crumbs that we’ll take token sidekicks and problematic cartoon characters over the alternative — watching thin white people interact with other thin white people on an infinite loop.
The numbers tell a story of an industry where the gatekeepers are overwhelmingly white and minorities are largely locked out of participating. The 2017 Hollywood Diversity Report found that in 2014-15, minority actors landed 11.4 percent of the lead roles on broadcast scripted television, and 13.6 percent of lead roles in film. Minorities were credited with creating 8 percent of broadcast scripted shows. In 2016, Variety found that 90 percent of showrunners were white. In 2015, The Washington Post reported that the 96 percent of Hollywood’s most powerful body, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences executive branch, were white.
This is all despite the fact that minorities account for 40 percent of the US population.
And Then Came Master Of None
That’s why Aziz Ansari’s Master of None was a revelation. Here was a show about a short, nasal-sounding brown dude who did all the things real people actually do in the world (date! eat! make mistakes!), and guess what? The critics loved it. White people loved it. People of colour loved it.
Here, finally, was our story onscreen. We saw our families reflected in ‘Parents’, when Dev and Brian navigated the cultural schism between migrant parents and their kids. We saw our workplaces in ‘Indians on TV’, when Dev and his mate Ravi’s career options were limited by the colour of their skin. And we saw ourselves in Dev, a guy who was painted with a complexity usually reserved for white characters, who got to explore the things — from everyday sexism to discrimination and interracial dating — that we were simultaneously experiencing in real life.
The show was a tour de force, made only better by its creators’ backstory. Aziz’s ascent was the classic tale of an underdog, a kid of Muslim immigrants who trod an unlikely path from South Carolina to Hollywood, racking up sold-out shows in Madison Square Garden and an Emmy Award-winning Netflix series along the way.
And we were all rooting for him.
The Unspoken Rule
If you’re a person of colour and you manage to make it against all odds, there’s an unspoken rule: you can’t fuck it up. Because if you do, it’ll be even harder to convince the gatekeepers of power — whatever field you’re in, from pop culture to politics — to buck the status quo and take a chance on a person of colour the next time around.
As the allegations against Aziz unfold and we have necessary conversations about the complexities of consent, while we grapple with how a “certified woke bae” could act in such a despicable way, there’s an uneasy thought tickling at the back of brown peoples’ brains.
Is Aziz’s misconduct going to make it that much harder for minorities to increase their representation in Hollywood? Have his actions ruined everything for brown creators, writers and actors and set back the desperate, clawing progress we’ve made? Is Hollywood about to boot out the one brown guy it let in?
Hollywood has consistently shown that it’s unwilling to give people of colour a chance — in movies, on TV, and in their awards nominations. White studio heads, casting directors and showrunners overwhelmingly employ people who look exactly like them. So I fear that Aziz’s actions — in a time when the industry as a whole is being forced to confront sexual assault — will make these white decision-makers hesitate even longer when a project involving a brown person lands on their desk.
Is it fair to judge all people of colour by the actions of one? Of course not. But Hollywood has a history of making illogical decisions when it comes to race — it continues to ignore diversity even though doing so is costing the industry millions of dollars. It wouldn’t surprise me if Aziz’s actions end up hurting the already minute chances of brown people in film and TV.
And on top of all of that, it’s gut-wrenching to see someone whose skin tone matched my own, someone who was funny and charming and who I respected so much, fall so hard.
With Master Of None, Aziz gave me the rarest of gifts: the opportunity to see the reality of my life as a brown person depicted on TV with humour and insight. And now, thanks to his misconduct, my experience of watching the show has been tainted.
It’s a haunting loss because I don’t know when I’ll get the chance to see my story reflected in pop culture again.
Nadia Nawaz is the Native Editor at Junkee.