Opinion

“Master of None” diversifies portrayal of Indian Americans in media

Although it was only released a few months ago, Netflix’s new series “Master of None” has garnered a volume of appraisal leveled to no other in 2015. Co-created and produced by comedic “Parks and Recreation” star Aziz Ansari, “Master of None” follows protagonist Dev (played by Ansari), a 30-year-old actor, through his daily triumphs and travails as he seeks his big break in New York City. The show deftly portrays a range of topics, from the hard reality of aging out of your wild early 20s into the quieter suburban adult lifestyle to dealing with parental attachment as you get older.

However, perhaps the most pertinent issue Ansari ingeniously touches on in the series is the portrayal of Indian Americans (and for that matter, minorities in general) in American television.

As a child born and raised in America by two Indian-immigrant parents, finding Indians on television was always somewhat of a novelty to me. Like most other kids born in the late ‘90s, I would come home from school and flip through Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, settling on sitcoms or cartoons to watch. Initially, I would question why there was no one with my complexion on “Drake and Josh” or “Rugrats.” Over time, I simply grew accustomed to it.

On the off chance that an Indian character would pop up in a TV show, they usually had a very one-dimensional and stereotypical role. The characterization of Indian men on television often centralizes on their thick accents or heavily studious, anti-social nature, exemplified by popular characters like Raj from “The Big Bang Theory” and every male from the NBC sitcom “Outsourced.”

Similarly, the roles of Indian female characters are usually relegated to the concept of “exotic” women with a plotline revolving around their ethnicity no matter how developed or interesting their character profiles are. An example is Cece from the TV sitcom “New Girl.” On an episode-to-episode basis, many jokes (often disparaging in nature) are made about Cece’s ethnicity, but her character barely even bats an eye at them.

Stereotypical minority roles are common in mainstream media, but there have been several breakthroughs in the last few years. South-Asian women, such as Mindy Kaling and Priyanka Chopra, have broken stereotypes set in the past by nuancing the previously one-dimensional definition of Indians through their work on “The Mindy Project” and “Quantico,” respectively.

Instead of completely whitewashing the actresses’ backgrounds or forcing them into stereotyped caricatures, both shows illustrate each character’s complex identities and allow the viewers to interpret the characterization for themselves. Ansari’s work in “Master of None” takes further steps to break these boundaries by not only exposing the racism Ansari has experienced as an Indian actor in Hollywood, but also by illustrating the practical inconveniences of being a minority trying to find success in the entertainment industry.

These shows demonstrate that it is possible to create a successful, poignant and nuanced series without compensating for ethnic identity. To me, progress is not just having more Indian-American actors on television – true progress comes when these Indian actors can actually be defined by their intricate, disparate and full-fledged personalities rather than buried under exaggerated ethnic stereotypes.

February 7, 2016

Reporters

Ramya Radhakrishnan


2 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To ““Master of None” diversifies portrayal of Indian Americans in media”

  1. Megan Mathew says:

    Very nice, beta

  2. San says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with your opinion. Sometimes, I, as a person identifying with a minority, feel like I have to live up the the stereotypes that have been set forth by other people. Yes. We can be more than the gas station owner or the doctor or engineer. We can be actors and artists and anything other humans can be as well.

Around the Web
  • Miami Herald
  • UM News
  • Error

Football season is nearly upon us. The University of Miami’s 2017 fall camp opens at 9 a.m. Tuesday ...

In an age in which committing once to a college football program isn’t always enough for fans and co ...

A six-pack of Canes notes: • It’s just different at UM – the camaraderie, the brotherhood, the desir ...

University of Miami football coach Mark Richt’s spin through the ESPN Car Wash on Tuesday began with ...

University of Miami legendary receiver Michael Irvin is no doubt relieved, as likely is UM football ...

University of Miami students and researchers are blogging during a month-long expedition in the Gulf ...

Looking back on 15 years of the University of Miami Business Plan Competition, hosted by the School ...

Read the latest entries from UM students who are spending part or all of their summer visiting diffe ...

Value in the Era of Analytics ...

Summer Creative Writing Camp Inspires Young Writers to Release Their Emotions Onto the Page. ...

RSS Error: A feed could not be found at http://www.hurricanesports.com/. A feed with an invalid mime type may fall victim to this error, or SimplePie was unable to auto-discover it.. Use force_feed() if you are certain this URL is a real feed.

TMH Twitter Feed
About TMH

The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly on Thursdays during the regular academic year.