In a recent interview with Manny Jacinto of “The Good Place,” France admitted that he initially “had no desire” to be involved with the popular series but a conversation about the Hollywood landscape convinced him otherwise.
“My husband convinced me to, and let me tell you why,” France said during the interview. “I had gone on and on and on for years, harping on the fact that I have never seen people like me on TV. And he was like, ‘Finally you can be that person that you don’t see in the media.’”
France ― who was a business owner and fashion designer and said he retired “five days before” Netflix reached out to him about the opportunity ― said his husband’s words ultimately persuaded him to audition. The rest is history.
Jacinto is also involved in a role that’s lauded as a win for representation. The actor, who on “The Good Place” portrays Jason Mendoza, an airheaded failed EDM DJ who pretends to be a monk, explained that his character was intended to challenge the Asian nerd trope.
“They wanted to see the complete opposite ― an Asian who gets B’s rather than A’s,” Jacinto said.
France and Jacinto agreed that they’re grateful to be involved in the industry at a time when Hollywood is beginning to open its eyes to diversity. France said that in his role, he’s able to “represent my community in a way that has never been represented before.
“I’ve seen brown people on TV before who are from South Asia, but they are always playing a part. It’s always a character that someone’s come up with, and it’s often a character that is a stereotype,” he said.
He added that he will begin playing scripted characters on TV and is determined to responsibly represent his community.
“I will never play a terrorist. I will not play a taxi driver,” he told Jacinto. “I do not want to play into that stereotype. I love that I’m in a position to be able to show people a very different side of who we are.”
Asians continue to be underrepresented on the small screen. A 2019 UCLA study examining the 2016–17 season in the U.S. showed that just 4.6 percent of roles went to Asians in broadcast scripted shows, rising slightly to 4.9 percent in digital scripted shows. Asians and Pacific Islanders accounted for 6.0 percent of the U.S. population in 2017, according to the Census Bureau.
France, a South Asian Muslim, revealed that he has been asked if he is a terrorist, and he underscored how important an Asian face is on his wildly popular program.
“There’s a massive ... misperception of who we are,” he said. “That’s why I feel so proud to be on this show.”