Do we need better South Asian Representation?

         Hello! I am writing about how I believe South Asian Representation needs to change. If someone asked me a ten years ago who are some famous South Asian / Indian actors, the only actor that would come to mind is Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire. This movie wont 8 academy awards, yet I have never another movie like this. Five, if someone asked me name famous South Asian actors, not too many would come to mind. I would think of side characters such as Aziz Ansari from Parks and Rec, Mindy Kaling from the Office, and Kal Penn who appeared in couple of How I Met Your Mother episodes. Now, if someone asked me who are some famous South Asian actors, I can say that Mindy Kaling, Hasan Minhaj, and Priyanka Chopra are stars in a show. As time has progressed, there has been some changes with the South Asian representation, but there definitely room for improvement.

         Growing up there were rarely anyone who looked like me in the films and showed I watched, which to an extent, I was okay with. But, what bothered me the most is when I would see South Asian actors forced to reduce themselves to a stereotypical character. Such as the man who drives the taxi cab, the math genius, the 7/11 owner, etc. I remember when I was in elementary school, there was a show on Disney Channel called “Jessie,” where one of the adopted children name was Ravi. His character role had every single possible stereotype. He was supposedly adopted from India, so he had a fake Indian accent and it bothered that he was the only child in the show that had to have an accent. The show was based in New York, so having a character with an accent from India was really not necessary. He was also portrayed as a nerd, socially awkward, bullied at school, and terrible at sports. He would be embarrassed a lot at school and by his brother Luke. This is not the only example of stereotypes Disney had made. In an animated show called Phineas and Ferb, they had an Indian friend named Baljeet who was nerdy and loved math. He also had an accent, was bullied, and talked about math a lot. I remember feeling so awkward watching that as a child because in my mind I would think, is that how the rest of America really views Indians? I rarely watched the shows Phineas and Ferb and Jessie because they would purposely make the Indian character be lame. It irritates me when shows or movies specifically point out that person has brown skin. These are just few examples. There is a stereotypical Indian character on Big Bang Theory named Raj. In Mean Girls, there was a math genius named Kevin G. Etc.

         Growing up and even now, it makes my face light up whenever I see someone on TV that looks like me who is addressed as a normal person. I remember I was thrilled to see an Indian character in the movie Pitch Perfect, where he was portrayed as a popular kid and a really good rapper. Originally, the role was meant for Donald Glover, who was a black artist. The actor who played the role in Pitch Perfect, Utkarsh Ambudkar, stated, “I rarely go in and book a role for an Indian character, because Hollywood’s idea of Indian men is very nerdy, emasculated, and safe…When a dude like me comes in with studs and has clearly had sex .. I’m constantly having to prove something different.” Even though many statistics state that Asians will probably make up more of the US population than Whites in the upcoming years, Asians make up only 3.1% of all top film roles. While people are attempting to give more roles to minority groups, especially after the #metoo movement, there is still a lot of troubles due to our political climate. I remember being worried about the minority groups after listening to Trump’s speech, but the fact that Hasan Minhaj spoke at the White House Correspondent dinner was great because it was a time America was very sensitive on race.

         While I am assuming most South Asians want to be actors that don’t play the stereotypical role, I think I need to also consider that at the end of they day people need a job. That is why they chose to play that nerdy character, the terrorist, or force themselves to have an accent. I am glad there is some progress in the industry with the Mindy Project and Hasan Minhaj’s Homecoming King. Priyanka Chopra was the star of ABC’s Quantico, but it ended only after 3 seasons. I personally have never watched Quantico, but I know there has been some controversies that offended some people.

I so happy that Crazy Rich Asians and Fresh Off the Boat is successful, but I would also like to see Asians who have brown skin like myself to have their own show or movie. There has not been a show or movie that I can think of that had an all South Asian cast. I mean it only makes sense to me as India is the second most populated country in the world. I’m still waiting for the day there can be an all Indian cast show that does not include any types of stereotypes. I want to see a show or a movie where I can really see myself, as an American Indian, on screen. Not even just on television or movies, but also in video games and animated shows.

            In conclusion, growing up I was usually almost always offended with the stereotypical characters Indians were given. There has been some progress, but I would love to see a lot more.

Netflix Animation: Challenging the Status Quos of the Industry

With the rise of online streaming, cable TV networks as well as some feature film companies are extremely challenged, and are trying to figure out how to handle the rapidly-changing market. In animation especially, streaming has shaken the industry entirely, paving new paths with promising outcomes for creators and audiences. While there are animated series available exclusively on streaming services, only recently have streaming services began seriously considering the creative power they have with the medium. Most notably, Netflix recently announced the creation of its animation department, through a Youtube video called, Drawing Netflix. Unlike the past, where Netflix would only buy the distribution rights to an animated series, the company is beginning the journey of creating original properties. Before the major announcement that was universally shared, I vaguely heard talk about Netflix animation through creators I followed on social media. Hush-hush talk about “all the great things netflix is doing right now” was the only thing that was really being said, but now it seems that the cat is completely out of the bag. Multiple notable creators of different backgrounds, such as Glen Keane, James Baxter, Craig McCracken, Jorge Gutierrez, and Alex Hirsch are just some of the notable creators who were once loyal to big-name companies, who have made the switch to Netflix animation. Throughout Drawing Netflix, each individual raved about some things in particular: the creative freedom and trust the creatives receive at Netflix, and the diversity of employees. These factors I believe are why so many animators are coming to the company, and why the business model will ultimately succeed within the animation industry.

As an animation student who is on social media often, I tend to hear about the happenings of industry creatives. When I heard that Alex Hirsch, along with a fair share of people were leaving Disney TV Animation to Netflix, it was something that initially caught me by surprise. Following Hirsch’s departure, it seemed that almost every “notable” creator from multiple networks was flocking to Netflix, doing “something amazing”. Not knowing that there was a Netflix Animation yet, I questioned what exactly made so many people attracted to it. It was something barely in fruition, wouldn’t it be risky or sketchy? Once I watched the video however, everything became much more clear. Throughout the video, multiple employees raved about how fresh the environment was, and the creative freedom they were able to have. Specifically, Craig McCracken expressed that “… [Netflix] trust[s] us, they trust the creative people who are gonna make the content”. Compared to Nickelodeon, who axed Glitch Techs in January for being a “financial risk”, Cartoon Network, where a shallow Powerpuff Girls remake without consulting Craig McCracken (the creator) was made, and Disney, where remakes and sequels are in constant demand by executives, the contrast of animated content and how creatives are treated through streaming companies is now much more apparent. Time and time again, it appears that executives in charge of TV and feature animation have the most power, and use creative talents who are eager to make something new and fresh create “safe” content with no real fulfillment. The creator’s opinions are given less priority, and executives don’t want to be involved with projects that would create a risk factor. On the contrary, Netflix willingly takes risks, partly because of the “binge model” they created. With binging content, the viewer chooses what to watch, therefore, more niche content can be made to support the wants of the viewer. Netflix prides itself with having a variety of content, so it is not surprising that they want to delve into a new medium. Additionally, throughout the video, the diversity within the studio was very apparent and refreshing. As said by Megan Dong, an Asian-American creator, “coming to Netflix was an opportunity to come to a place that was really embracing different voices from different types of creators, and telling different kinds of stories”. Netflix has individuals of different gender identities, ages, and races creating content for the animation studio, and it is something that has felt like a necessity for the industry that has taken forever to come to fruition. Contrary to TV animation studios or feature studios who face major issues with sexism, ageism, and cherry-picking employees from certain art schools, Netflix is starting off with a bang, and giving people with a variety of backgrounds a platform to share the stories they want to tell.

While companies such as Cartoon Network have embraced the use of streaming platforms, and are finally green lighting unique shows with diverse cats and messages, other companies such as Nickelodeon have executives scratching their heads, wondering why they’re falling behind with their competitors. Ultimately, what keeps TV and feature animation companies struggling to evolve with the times is their fear of risk, and having the voices of executives take precedent over the creators. Every single individual in Netflix’s video raved about how much freedom they have, so it is obvious how much of a disconnect there is between executives and creatives at competing companies. If competitors truly want to compete at the same caliber as Netflix, they will ultimately have to respect the creators and their ideas more, and be open to change.