capstone intent: to report the discrepancies in mainstream entertainment’s depiction of the South Asian diaspora.
As communities of color criticize Hollywood for minimizing and tokenizing BIPOC narratives on-screen, the call-to-action for Desi creatives to demand accurate representation is louder than ever. South Asian communities encompass cultural stigmas, thus disapproving careers in the arts. This hinders Desis from joining the entertainment industry.
If Desis are not represented in entertainment (on-screen and off-screen), how can our narratives be correctly portrayed?
My capstone is reported a multimedia video interview format to share first-person accounts of South Asian creatives who work in the entertainment industry. The four interviews address misrepresentations of Desi experiences, reconfigure the public’s perception of Desi narratives, and present solutions to combat notions that harm the diaspora as a whole.
1,300 popular films from 2007 to 2019 found that major studio movies continue to use harmful stereotypes of the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community.
- APIs accounted for less than 6% of speaking roles and less than 4% of leads and co-leads in Hollywood films.
- Out of the 1,300 films analyzed, only 3.4 % featured an API lead or co-lead, in contrast to 336 films led/co-led by white male actors.
- These statistics, which represent the whole API community, indicate that South Asians make up an even lesser percentage of this population.
As a former NBA/NFL dancer, Anisha witnessed firsthand how the entertainment industry stereotypes Desis in the arts. During her time as an NBA dancer for the Golden State Warriors, Anisha choreographed the organization’s annual Bollywood Night. She used her platform to assemble a routine using an authentic Bollywood song in order to appreciate the culture rather than appropriate it. Currently pursuing careers as an orthodontist and choreographer, Anisha makes space for the arts in her life, while also refuting the notion that art is solely a hobby.
“Desi people make up such a large portion of the world’s population it’s crazy to me that they’re not represented like that in entertainment”.
Seshmila Jay—producer, creative director, performer—shares how her identity as a Desi woman influences her approach to work. Seshmila advocates that South Asian stigmas surrounding a career in the arts needs to change in order for more Desi creators to influence the entertainment industry. She addresses the problems with Hollywood’s ‘checking off a box’ mentality when it comes to diversity picks and maintains that ‘trojan horse-ing’ South Asian narratives is a more effective method in debunking racist stereotypes.
“Having more stories is important so people don’t have snap judgements about what and who a South Asian woman is or is meant to be“.
“Because of my own cultural upbringing, I just thought the arts, as much as I love it, will always be hobby. I wanted to make it a career”.Seshmila Jay
Mukta was journalistically inclined from an early age. Growing up in a mixed-race household with immigrant parents heavily impacted Mukta’s identity, causing her to frequently evaluate ideas of ‘success’. Traditional Desi standards commend careers in STEM, as they are deemed more lucrative, yet Mukta opted to pursue her talents and developed a career in podcasting. Mukta’s position as Executive Producer at Higher Ground Audio, a production company founded by the Obama’s, has allowed her to mold her own definition of what ‘success’ for a South Asian woman looks like. Mukta encourages for a wider array of Desi depictions on the big screen in order to diversify narratives and tell the stories at are not being told in mainstream media.
“Token characters need to disappear. When you depict brown people as terrorists, that’s going to have a literal impact on the way that a lot of people now associate brown people”.
Sweta grew up in Kymore, a small town in India, where she was told that working in Hollywood was too large of a dream. Fast forward to present day, Sweta is now the founder and CEO of her own LA based production company, IndoHolly Films and was recently Oscar shortlisted for her COVID-19 documentary ‘A Pandemic: Away from the Motherland’. The goal of IndoHolly Films is to spotlight overlooked narratives within the Desi diaspora. Expanding Desi narratives is pivotal in order to achieve accurate storytelling. Sweta advocates that South Asian stigmas surrounding the arts need to change and that this change must start from the home.
“Once we have defined characters that are representative of all the aspects of a society, then we can move ahead”.