A while back I wrote a piece titled “Hollywood Needs More Brown Superheroes”, which was about diversity in the entertainment industry, but also about how I really wanted to be a brown superhero or Jedi. As an Indian actor, I was growing frustrated over the limited variety of roles I could audition for. The representation of brown people in movies and television is just sad. A bunch of nerds to be sidekicks for the charming white lead, or ‘unnamed terrorist’ numbered one through thirty for the human shooting galleries in our America’s-The-Shit action flicks.
It took less than three auditions in my pursuits before I heard my first, “Can you do the accent?” It didn’t make it better that a bunch of my instructors would tell me things like, “I’ll be real with you, you’ll probably be typecast.”
It didn’t take long for me, as a minority actor, to realize that roles of any real substance are rare. I found myself falling into cynical asshole mode, skeptical of every gig that came my way. But that’s not the type of creative I wanted to be. I decided to fight for my worth, something I initially did out of great anger. I wanted to pride myself on being the Indian dude that wasn’t going to take any shit.
It took me a while to understand that anger was not the move. Adopting a more assholish disposition wasn’t helping my situation. It was only making me more difficult to relate to and it certainly didn’t get me any more gigs. My voice was becoming a noise that blended in with everyone else’s, which is exactly what I was trying to avoid in the first place. This opened me up to a lot of hypocrisy.
“Rather than killing myself with auditions for shitty roles I didn’t want, I elected to create one for myself and for the other misrepresented people in my life.”
When your perspective is so tightly framed on your own frustrations, you fail to see others who are also struggling to find an adequate representation just like you. I was taking a pain felt by many performers of color and turning it into my own very self-centered thing, as if I were the only one experiencing discrimination in the industry.
I remember going on an angsty rant about how I couldn’t stand being stereotyped within the industry. When one of my close actor friends showed empathy, I completely rejected the notion that she could understand my frustration. She didn’t share my dark skin and background, how could she possibly know?
She checked me real quick by letting me know that most of the roles she goes for are of the vapid love interest or manic pixie dream girl - and much of that media perception translates over to her real life. She revealed that many people would completely dismiss her intelligence only because she was a woman.
In my self-centered ramblings about feeling under-represented, I almost completely shut down someone else’s similar experience. Sometimes you have to be made aware of your assholish-ness - the media’s portrayals I hated so much had actually negatively informed my thoughts on others. Well, fuck. What was a boy to do?
Representation and inclusivity became prominent topics on my mind. The more I explored these topics, the more I became aware of diversity as an issue across the board. I continued to speak to diverse creatives and performers, and collected a series of conversations which I decided to turn into a project of my own.
Rather than killing myself with auditions for shitty roles I didn’t want, I elected to create one for myself and for the other misrepresented people in my life. I decided to create ‘Self-Love’, a 20-minute short film based on my experiences and the experiences of my friends within the entertainment industry, specifically with regards to diversity and representation. The film served as a means of channeling my own frustrations in a healthier way. I’m not getting the roles I want? I’ll create my own. My friends aren’t having their stories shared? We’ll share our own. I wanted to feature Indian people in lead roles.
Rather than giving into the anger, I chose to take responsibility for my voice and acknowledge its power. My voice is still in its infancy but that’s fine. The point is, as diverse creators we have to continue to nurture and push our voices louder and further. That’s how we break the mold.
The characters in this film mirror the process of the film being made. They acknowledge the misrepresentation within the industry, define their self-love, and eventually feel powerful enough to create something on their own.
We had no budget and relied heavily on whoever could slot us in their busy schedules to participate. Some professionals and some people chipped in to tell a story they felt strongly about. We shot the project over a four-day period in New York.
It’s a tricky thing telling a story about diversity in such a crunch because you can’t cover as wide a range of people as you’d like. It’s not a perfect film, but so much heart went into its creation. It’s an important stepping stone for me, and has inspired me to make more intricately crafted projects featuring a diverse group of people in the future. The lesson? If you’re pissed at misrepresentation, don’t wait for the industry to fix things, go out and fix it yourself.