Aziz Ansari And “Master Of None” Emphasize The Importance Of Diversity

Last night, Aziz Ansari sat down with Stephen Colbert to talk about “Master of None,” as part of his endless three-flames-emoji press tour. While they shot the shit, Colbert pointed out that with Ansari on the stage with him, the “Late Show” had reached peak diversity at 50 percent non-white. “This is like an all-time high for CBS,” said Ansari, leaving Colbert speechless. Late-night television is white as hell and it feels nice and sharp for Ansari to call it out without much fanfare. While facing the lack of diversity in many, many industries is often uncomfortable for the (white) people in power, we’re dealing in facts, plain and simple. Imagine what it feels like for those who are actually in the minority.

While the strength of “Master of None” is almost enough to serve as its own good publicity, Ansari is admirably stepping up to bat, using his time in the spotlight to champion the need for diverse representation in Hollywood and everywhere else. Yesterday, the New York Times published a piece by Ansari in which he talks about how we’re making steps in the right direction towards representation, but how we have a long way to go.

“Sure, things are moving in the right direction with ‘Empire’ and ‘Fresh Off the Boat.’ But, as far as I know, black people and Asian people were around before the last TV season,” Ansari writes.

“Fresh Off The Boat” and “Empire” both feel revolutionary, which, if you think about it, doesn’t say much about us as a culture. People of color have been around for quite some time, and it says something about the state of entertainment that it feels so revolutionary to see the minority experience represented on television or in film. To change the system that allows for a homogenous cultural experience to be Hollywood’s main output, especially in a society that views entertainment as one of its bellwethers, is an uphill battle, a slow trudge towards a goal far in the distance. Any tiny crack in the foundation feels like a victory, but it’s not enough.

Representation is important not because of quotas that need to be filled or tokenism – it’s important because every person deserves to have their story, their background, valued as a part of the overall culture. You can get through life surrounding yourself with people that look like you and act like you because it is comfortable, or you can actively consider expanding your horizons. We are so often complacent with our homogeny because anything other than that takes real effort. Consider the cast of “Master of None,” which is effortlessly multicultural and authentically reflective of groups of friends everywhere. Of his casting difficulties, Ansari writes:

I had to cast an Asian actor for “Master of None,” and it was hard. When you cast a white person, you can get anything you want: “You need a white guy with red hair and one arm? Here’s six of ’em!” But for an Asian character, there were startlingly fewer options, and with each of them, something was off. Some had the right look but didn’t have comedy chops. Others were too young or old. We even debated changing the character to an Asian woman, but a week before shooting began, Kelvin Yu, an actor from Los Angeles, sent in an audition over YouTube and got the part.

Actively seeking out diversity, whether it’s in the films you watch, books you read, leaders you vote for or the people you work with is valuable to your development as a well-rounded human being. It’s essential to surround yourself with other points of view. The vast, blinding shades of whiteness on the big screen and in the boardroom have been the norm for long enough.  At this point, I know enough about the different ways to be white. It’s time to make room for others.

[NY Times]