by Latoya Peterson
Over at Slate, Nina Shen Rastogi points to the rise of South Asian characters on television. In an article titled “Beyond Apu: Why are there suddenly so many Indians on television?” Shen Rastogi examines the changing opportunities for South Asian actors:
Why are Indians suddenly the “it ethnicity,” as Ravi Patel put it to me?
This, too, is at least partially a function of changing demographics. More Indians in the fabric of American life means we’re more likely to be a source of inspiration for non-Indian writers, like the two Jewish guys from suburban New Jersey who wrote Harold and Kumar—the title characters are based on their friends. Reshma Shetty, who stars as Divya on USA’s hit dramedy Royal Pains, told me that her character was based on a Divya that creator Andrew Lenchewski grew up with on Long Island.
But according to Karen Narasaki, who heads the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition, the rise in primetime Asians is also the result of advocacy. Her organization and its partners have been working with the networks to develop diversity initiatives for the past decade, ever since 1999’s infamously “whitewashed” primetime season, in which not a single freshman show had a leading minority character.
Narasaki’s group doesn’t track all the various Asian-American subgroups, so it’s hard to tell if Indians are rising in Hollywood at the expense of, say, Chinese and Koreans. But there are a few reasons why Indian actors might have more opportunities. America’s growing fascination with Bollywood—and relative ignorance of entertainment industries in other Asian countries—may be opening some doors. Narasaki notes that TV executives tend to have a mental barrier that prevents them from seeing Asians as “stars” who can carry shows. But “Hollywood is intrigued by Bollywood,” she says. It’s not so much that Los Angeles wants to start aping Bombay’s storytelling style, but when executives are thinking about diversifying their shows, the allure of Bollywood—and, more recently, the runaway success of Slumdog Millionaire—may mean that Indians seem more attractive than members of other Asian groups. Continue reading