Aziz Ansari just released his original sitcom, Master Of None, on Netflix, and has received nothing but positive feedback for the depiction of people of color. He wrote an essay for The New York Times about how times have changed in Hollywood, but we still have a long way to go.
Check out the excerpt about when he found out the Indian character in Short Circuit 2 was actually played by a white actor in brownface:
The first time I saw an Indian character in an American movie was “Short Circuit 2,” a 1988 film in which a humanized robot named Johnny 5 goes to New York and bonds with an Indian scientist named Benjamin Jarhvi.
Seeing an Indian character in a lead role had a powerful effect on me, but it was only as I got older that I realized what an anomaly it was. I rarely saw any Indians on TV or film, except for brief appearances as a cabdriver or a convenience store worker literally servicing white characters who were off to more interesting adventures. This made “Short Circuit 2” special. An Indian lead character? With a Caucasian love interest? In the 1980s? What’s going on here? A bold foray into diversity far ahead of its time?
One day in college, I decided to go on the television and film website IMDB to see what happened to the Indian actor from “Short Circuit 2.” Turns out, the Indian guy was a white guy.
The character was played by Mr. Stevens, a Caucasian actor in brownface. Rather than cast an Indian actor, the filmmakers had Mr. Stevens sit every morning in a makeup chair and get painted an “Indian color” before going on set and doing his “Indian voice.”
As a child, I thought the villain of the film was Oscar Baldwin, the banker who tricks Johnny 5 into helping him commit a jewel heist. As an adult, I thought the bad guy was actually Mr. Stevens, who mocked my ethnicity.
And now, here I was, a real Indian man, talking to the actor who played a fake one almost 30 years ago.
After a long conversation, I can confirm Mr. Stevens is not a villain, but was, when he took the role, a well-intentioned if slightly misguided young actor who needed a job during a more culturally insensitive time
Read the letter in it’s entirety here.