I will give you two or three non-white actors in smaller supporting roles. Why not lead roles? Because I’m trying to make a living here. I have spent a lot of time and money throughout history convincing everyone that white is normal. I have even convinced non-white people that white is better, prettier, smarter, stronger, and that only white people can truly be the heroes. Everyone has bought into it, and now you want me to just abandon all my hard work?
Aasif Mandvi parodies the mentality of studio executives who whitewash, in a satire article for Salon.com
Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi joined Fresh Air today to talk about growing up in the U.K, his parents’ arranged marriage and the kinds of stereotypical roles he was offered early in his career.
From the interview:
On why he was reluctant to audition for The Daily Show
“I had done this kind of thing before where I had gone to David Letterman and done the voice of Saddam Hussein, or like a tech support guy on Jimmy Kimmel, you know, and I thought [The Daily Show job] was going to be one of these one-off things where I was going to be pretending to fly around on a carpet or yell "Death to America” in an Arab accent. …
What had happened is they had written a Middle East correspondent, a correspondent actually from the Middle East, and then they realized that they didn’t have one so they needed to audition people. So I came in that day, just as a regular audition, to audition for this one-off piece they had written. …
I was a fan of The Daily Show. I watched it. I never imagined being on it, but I figured I would just go down there and do my best Stephen Colbert impression. And I guess it worked because Jon [Stewart] hired me right on the spot and then I was on the show that night before I could even tell anyone that I was on The Daily Show. And then I was literally on the air and people were calling and being like, “Did I just see you on The Daily Show?” It happened really fast. Then I guess Jon liked me and he wanted me to keep coming back.
The actor and comedian has previously worked on numerous films and TV shows, including Million Dollar Arm and HBO’s The Brink. He has also participated on The Daily Show since 2006.
In the upcoming Netflix show A Series of Unfortunate Events, he will play Dr. Montgomery Montgomery, also known as “Uncle Monty”, a lovely herpetologist who took care of the orphans in Book the Second, The Reptile Room.
This practice of whitewashing in Hollywood has been going on for a long time. The problem is that there’s this attitude that white is the normal and everything else is not. And so there’s this kind of idea that a lot of times roles that originally come from sources — like comic books or novels and things like that — are ethnic roles, are often given to white actors when it’s converted into a film.
“…I think this upsets a lot of ethnic people — ethnic actors — because this was, this is something that is perpetuated by Hollywood and this idea that white is the norm and if you want to identify with the hero — identify with the person on the screen — he or she has to be white. America’s not the same as it was 50 years ago and I think those things should change now.
“…I think it’s just a mindset that exists from a long time ago, you know that like I said white is the sort of norm. If we want to project ourselves onto the screen in the form of a hero or heroine, that person has to be white. And that’s been sold to us for decades.”