“Even though I’ve sold out Madison Square Garden as a standup comedian and have appeared in several films and a TV series, when my phone rings, the roles I’m offered are often defined by ethnicity and often require accents.
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. And whatever progress toward diversity we are making, the percentage of minorities playing lead roles is still painfully low. (The numbers for women are depressing as well.) In 2013, according to a recent report produced by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at U.C.L.A., only 16.7 percent of lead film roles went to minorities. Broadcast TV was worse, with only 6.5 percent of lead roles going to nonwhites in the 2012-13 season. In cable, minorities did better, getting 19.3 percent of the roles.
For me, as a modern American consumer, these numbers come as zero surprise. Here’s a game to play: When you look at posters for movies or TV shows, see if it makes sense to switch the title to “What’s Gonna Happen to This White Guy?” (“Forrest Gump,” “The Martian,” “Black Mass”) or if there’s a woman in the poster, too, “Are These White People Gonna Have Sex With Each Other?” (“Casablanca,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “The Notebook”). Even at a time when minorities account for almost 40 percent of the American population, when Hollywood wants an “everyman,” what it really wants is a straight white guy.
But a straight white guy is not every man. The “everyman” is everybody.
When we were looking for an Asian actor for “Master of None,” my fellow creator, Alan Yang, asked me: “How many times have you seen an Asian guy kiss someone in TV or film?” After a long hard think, we came up with two (Steven Yeun on “The Walking Dead” and Daniel Dae Kim on “Lost”). It made me realize how important it was not to give up on our search.
But I wouldn’t be in the position to do any of this, and neither would Alan, unless some straight white guy, in this case Mike Schur, had given us jobs on “Parks and Recreation.” Without that opportunity, we wouldn’t have developed the experience necessary to tell our stories. So if you’re a straight white guy, do the industry a solid and give minorities a second look.
And to anyone worried that it may be “weird” to cast someone who looks a certain way to play a certain part, because it’s not what people are used to, I say: Arnold Schwarzenegger.
It’s true. Arnold Schwarzenegger is an unsung pioneer for minority actors. Look at “The Terminator”: There had to be someone who heard his name tossed around for the role and thought: Wait, why would the robot have an Austrian accent? No one’s gonna buy that! We gotta get a robot that has an American accent! Just get a white guy from the States. Audiences will be confused.
Nope. They weren’t. Because, you know what?
No one really cares.”