I look forward to the day there are many more Asian American TV creators and filmmakers who get the chance to tell multifaceted stories with bigger budgets. It’s great to see every ethnicity popping up in regular scenes in films and television just going through regular, everyday problems, and not just addressing problems related to being that ethnicity. I’m going to open this up a bit to include some of my favorite Asian characters from TV, as well as some of my favorite Asian directors and films:
TV creators and characters:
1. “Taste the Nation With Padma Lakshmi”: I have to plug my own show, obviously, because it’s so gratifying to be able to help tell these incredible stories.
2. Mindy Kaling, “Never Have I Ever”: I stayed up until 5 a.m. binge-watching the first season with my daughter — we just inhaled it. I love it so much. And I’m such a fan of everything Poorna Jagannathan does as well.
3. Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang, “Master of None”: This show is just brilliant.
4. Maulik Pancholy as Jack Donaghey’s assistant Jonathan on “30 Rock”: He was so hysterical in this role!
5. Awkwafina, “Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens”: Fantastic cast all around.
Films and filmmakers:
1. Mira Nair: “Mississippi Masala”
2. Wong Kar-wai: “In the Mood for Love”
3. Bong Joon Ho: “Snowpiercer”
Do we ever ask European Americans what it feels like to be white in this country? I’d love to hear what they have to say. It’s such an open-ended question, how can I answer it with a quippy soundbite that gives it any truth? What it actually means to be an AAPI person in media is frustrating. It is frustrating to see very little nuance in characters that look like you.
When I’m looking at Indian characters, for example, they are so often portrayed one-dimensionally. That’s changing now, thankfully. We have people who are Indian American who are gaining power in Hollywood and are making TV programs that are more nuanced, complex and authentic to those communities — people like Mindy Kaling and Aziz Ansari, who bring such amazing depth and rich entertainment quality to their stories.
What it means to be any minority in this country is to see your stories get treated without the same attention to detail — like lighting specially for our skin tones, or larger budgets for the overall project. You so often don’t see yourself represented in meaningful, high caliber ways as that of your white counterpart. But as more AAPI filmmakers get to do big projects and tell stories from our points of view, that will change.
Padma Lakshmi is the Emmy-nominated host and executive producer of Bravo’s “Top Chef,” now in its 19th season, and Hulu’s “Taste the Nation,” which is in production on its second season, and has won Critics Choice and Gotham awards.
Throughout the month of May, Variety will publish essays and stories from prominent AAPI artists, artisans and entertainment figures celebrating the impact of AAPI entertainment and entertainers on the world at large.
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