Aziz Ansari once turned down a role in 2007’s “Transformers” because he refused to do an Indian accent. His friend Ravi Patel took the role instead, and while Ansari doesn’t fault him for it, the “Parks and Recreation” alum did illuminate a bigger problem in Hollywood.
“Should I do an accent? Should I not do the accent? That’s a thing that a lot of minority actors grapple with,” Ansari said during an EW Fest Q&A for his semi-autobiographical Netflix series, “Master of None,” over the weekend.
“It was a role for like a call-center guy who has an accent. And I was like, ‘No, I’m not doing it.’ And then Ravi was like, ‘I’ll do it.’ And Ravi did it and made some decent money. And I don’t have anything against someone who does the accent. I understand. You got to work, and some people don’t think it’s a problem."
The 32-year-old, who created his Netflix show because he wasn’t being cast in more interesting roles, said he and his “Master of None” costar Patel (“Grandfathered”) frequently debate about doing accents on-screen. They also deal with the issue head-on in their new show when the kid version of Ansari’s Dev sees a montage of Indian characters on television -- characters who are often relegated to gas stations or are played by non-Indian actors. Dev is later asked to do an accent in the episode too.
Racial diversity on television has been a hot topic in Hollywood for years, hitting a fever pitch last spring when Deadline published an article about white actors losing out on roles because TV was getting too diverse. But Ansari’s complaints have had a longer history in Tinseltown with minority actors being asked to use native or cartoonish accents. However, Ansari, who is from South Carolina and has little to no Indian or Southern accent, said that he refuses to do accents and is among the latest to speak out against them for perpetuating stereotypes.
Iranian comedian Maz Jobrani has frequently knocked Hollywood for cornering him into playing terrorists upon learning his background, saying, “When casting directors find out you’re of Middle Eastern descent, they go, ‘Oh, you’re Iranian. Great. Can you say, ‘I will kill you in the name of Allah?’"
And “Fresh Off the Boat” star Constance Wu, who speaks entirely in a Taiwanese accent in the ABC comedy, recently dismissed a request for Jessica Huang’s signature accent during an interview, saying, “It’s not a party trick.”
The NAACP has also long worked against perpetuating black stereotypes in the media.
Meanwhile, Ansari skewered the lack of color on television despite the latest strides in casting diverse lead actors and actresses.
“Guess what? Every other show is still white people,” he said. “White people have every other show. It’s still kind of unbalanced. I know there’s ‘Empire.' That’s there. But I think there were 10 black actors before ‘Empire.' It’s not like they just found the 10th black actor. ‘We can finally make ‘Empire’! It’s long overdue.’”
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