By now, you might’ve heard Aziz Ansari — comedian, author, and star of his own new series Master of None — sound off on matters of race and diversity in Hollywood, including his refusal to do an Indian accent for the Transformers movie franchise.
Master of None, which debuted on Netflix on Friday, takes those thoughts and runs with them — particularly in the episode “Indians on TV,” in which his character, Dev, goes through many of the experiences Ansari himself had to go through as a young actor. To find out more, we asked Ansari to tell us all about the Hollywood-skewering episode that’ll have people talking for a long time to come.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So tell us about how the “Indians on TV” episode came out and the process that went into making it.
AZIZ ANSARI: Well, Alan [Yang, Master of None co-creator] and I felt like we had to address some of these issues because we’re one of the few Asian showrunners out there making shows. I don’t think a white male showrunner is really going to care about “Indians on TV” or even care about the issues we talked about in “Parents.” We were coming from a place where we said, “This is how we really talk about this stuff and these are things we think about.” We have so many conversations about this kind of stuff, and when we were writing the show, we felt like it was stuff we wanted to put in the episode, since it’s not really talked about on TV much.
So the “Indians on TV” episode, that kind of came about from this idea that there is this kind of thought that like, “Oh, there’s been so much progress and there’s all this diversity on TV” … but it’s still, like, there’s one Asian guy. Does this group of people ever see another Asian guy ever? Just the one guy? It’s just him? Is that it? So that’s what we started talking about: “There can be one, but there can’t be two.”
That became a bit in that episode. And I’ve had to deal with things like that, like my character does as an actor. When I first started acting, I did have to deal with things like going to auditions and them asking that I do an accent, and me feeling a little uncomfortable about that, and having friends that were Indian actors that did do accents. And it wouldn’t be me really judging people who do accents, but kind of being even more frustrated. Sometimes a minority actor, that’s all you’re thought of. It’s like, “Well, if we need someone Indian, we’ll call that guy.” Know what I mean? So many times in movies and TV shows, the straight white guy, he’s the everyman. That’s who everyone has decided is like everybody. But he’s not everybody. He’s just not.
Have you seen any progress on that front?
I think as things continue to evolve in our entertainment world, as more and more showrunners and creators are from more diverse backgrounds, I think you’re going to see more stories that are from those perspectives that are not just like, “What’s going to happen to this white guy?”
The “there can’t be two” part, did that came from a specific personal experience?
Well, no, just more out of conversation. There was no real situation I was in where there could only be one, and they couldn’t cast me and a friend. That in particular wasn’t based on anything. But I have heard of stories like that where people are like, “Oh, well, they’ve already got their ethnic guy so I’m out of the running now.” And it is always this one guy. You see this one guy, one girl on a poster with a bunch of white people, and it’s like, “Hey, there’s our diversity. That person, they’re diverse. Look! It’s a diverse show.” It’s that one minority.
Similarly, in “Mornings,” Dev and Rachel get in a little argument about how telling parents about your sex life is different for Indians — that comes off as such a specific and real situation.
When we wrote that episode … it’s about 30 minutes long, but our first cut of it was almost 50 minutes. There were so many scenes, and I was like, “The one thing that we cannot touch is that argument.” Because that scene is something that only our show could do. Any other show, when they have something between a boyfriend and girlfriend, I’ve never seen that portrayed, and that’s an interesting thing that I feel like a lot of kids whose parents are immigrants [go through]. Even when we were on set [shooting the episode], there were so many people who’d come up to me and be like, “Oh my God, I had to deal with this with my parents,” or, “I was dating someone and we had the same kind of thing.” This is a thing that a lot of people have dealt with that you’ve never really seen a scene about before.
Season 1 of Master of None is streaming now on Netflix.