Despite the superiority that is often associated with entertainers in Hollywood, there is much racism and stereotyping aimed towards the small sector that people of color occupy within the industry. More often than not, minorities are typecast as what Americans perceive to be the standard face of their respective ethnicities, whether that be Asian, Arab, or African.
However, most actors will not settle for a role that disrespects and furthers the generalizations that are made about them and their cultures. This was the case for British Pakistani actor, Riz Ahmed who was frequently offered to play ‘terrorist No. 3’ type stuff but was uninterested in promoting those caricatures. “I’d just made a decision I wasn’t going to do it. I thought, ‘I’d rather be broke,'” he said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
Due to the lack of desirable positions for minorities, colored actors are overly excited when a decent role comes their way. Opportunities to put themselves in the limelight do not often occur, so they fixate on perfecting their skill for that certain be-all-end-all role in their careers.
Rajiv Surendra, or better known as Kevin Gnapoor, the mathlete from “Mean Girls,” was convinced that he was meant to be Pi, the young protagonist from “Life of Pi,” who defies the stereotypes set for brown actors in Hollywood. Yet in the end, despite the similar background he shared with the character and the 6 years he spent immersing himself in the role, Surendra did not even receive a formal audition. Suraj Sharma, the actor who did land the role was a teenager from New Delhi. So while Pi did not end up being played by someone unfit for the role, it created a very tense environment for many brown actors seeking their big break.
The effects of this sort of tension can be clearly seen through the recent twitter onrush of suggestions of all sorts of colored people to audition for the live-action adaptation of Disney’s “Aladdin,” despite the fact that the movie is specifically set in a fictional Middle-Eastern city.
Avan Jogia, a Candian actor from Indian descent, understood the difficulty of these types of situations and showed unity with his fellow people of color.
Table scraps aren’t enough, and until there is enough work for POC’s of all backgrounds to eat, I refuse to be pitted against my brothers. https://t.co/GxOrFNFuEC
— Avan Jogia (@AvanJogia) July 11, 2017
A study from the University of Southern California shows that while 40% of the U.S. population is composed of non-white racial/ethnic groups, only 28.3% of Hollywood characters with dialogue are of such groups. This significant statistic is seldom reflected in Hollywood films, but when it is it makes the plot so much more realistic. “Spiderman: Homecoming,” which debuted just this summer was one of the most diverse films Marvel Studios has produced and received 92% approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes.
So why are Hollywood roles for people of color so limited?
Hollywood was largely founded by Eastern European Jews who would cast all white actors in an attempt to prove that they were not trying to implement Jewish values in America culture. However, that was the 20th century and it is no longer the 20th century. America’s growth in culture should be emulated in its cinematic industry, as it continues to shape the future success of a nation that was built upon valuing the contributions of its diverse people.