Dev Patel calls out Hollywood for their racist Asian stereotypes

As many of you know, I love Dev Patel. Before I even saw Slumdog Millionaire, I loved him. I love his big ears. I love his sweet smile. And most of all, I love that he’s a British Indian actor who became acceptable as a leading man in a film that went on to become the Best Picture Oscar-winner. His career should have been rosy, right? After the success of Slumdog and the acclaim for Dev as an actor, he should be swimming in scripts. Not so much, as it turns out. Dev gave an interview to The Telegraph about the stereotypes of Asians, and how those are the only roles out there for an Asian actor:

Hollywood is institutionally racist, according to the Slumdog Millionaire star Dev Patel, who claims Asian actors are limited to roles as terrorists, taxi drivers or geeks. When the story of a boy from the Mumbai slums became the surprise hit of 2009, winning eight Oscars, it was expected that Patel’s career would take off.

However, the 20-year-old from Harrow, north-west London, has been frustrated by the lack of decent roles on offer and is currently jobless.

“Because Slumdog was such a big hit there was a lot of pressure in terms of what I did next. For my second film I wanted a role that would stretch me, but all I was getting offered were stereotypical parts like the goofy Indian sidekick,” he said.

“Asian actors tend not to be sent Hollywood scripts that are substantial or challenging. I’m likely to be offered the roles of a terrorist, cab driver and smart geek… I want to show that I have versatility. You have to remember that, before Slumdog, the last film about India that went big at the Oscars was Gandhi, as played by Ben Kingsley. The fact that me and Freida have any kind of platform in Hollywood is a big step forward.”

Freida Pinto played Patel’s love interest in Slumdog Millionaire and is now his real-life girlfriend. The Indian-born former model has had more success than Patel, winning a role in Woody Allen’s latest film.

Patel said he was hoping to overcome prejudice. “I’m buzzing with adrenaline and raring to go, but I have to be realistic. Being an Asian actor, it’s never going to be easy. Hopefully the industry is changing and the casting directors will be less focused on colour so that people like myself can get through the door.”

He was plucked from the relative obscurity of Channel 4’s teen drama, Skins, to make his film debut in Slumdog Millionaire. Directed by Danny Boyle, it became a box office phenomenon and won the best picture Oscar.

Unfortunately, the film Patel chose for his second role has been mired in accusations of racism. The Last Airbender is based on a children’s television cartoon in which the main characters are Asian. The £100 million Hollywood adaptation, released in the UK this week, has white actors playing the roles and the Asian actors – including Patel – are limited to playing baddies.

When the film premiered in the US last month, protesters demonstrated outside the cinema in Los Angeles.

The young actor still lives at home with his parents and travels on public transport. He said: “One time I was on the Tube and I picked up a free newspaper. Inside was a big article with the headlines, ‘Dev Patel, the new rising star’ along with a picture of me. This woman got on and started reading the piece. She looked up at me and did a classic double take.”

[From The Telegraph]

Aw, poor kid. I would like to tell young Dev a story. It’s a story about a wonderful actress by the name of Sarita Choudhury. Sarita is a half-Indian actress who made a big splash in her film debut, Mississippi Masala. She was the first English-speaking Indian actress to really go mainstream Hollywood as a lead role (not to mention as an interracial love interest to Denzel Washington) in a mainstream film. Sarita faced the same kind of bullsh-t Dev is discussing right here – that she would only get hired for the stereotypical “ethnic” roles. But she found a home doing diverse work in films and television, mostly in supporting and character work. Whenever she pops up on one of my shows or takes a turn in a film, I’m always happily surprised because I love her so much. But I’m also sad because I think she’s a better actress than most of the Hollywood A-list women, and she should have been a major lead actress.

So, my advice to Dev: keep plugging away, kid. I know it seems difficult, but it’s also about the work, right? Maybe you don’t have to be a lead actor right now, maybe you should spend a few years doing supporting work and yes, sometimes playing into stereotypes. I know it sucks. But lots of minorities have to do it, as do most of the working actresses out there. Look at Kal Penn! Or Ken Leung! They’ve turned in some “stereotype” roles, but they’ve also done some really interesting stuff with their careers (The Namesake, and Lost, respectively). Holy sh-t, Ken Leung is 40 years old?!? See, that’s another stereotype, but one you should be thankful for, Dev: you’ll never have to Botox. You’ll be 40 years old and still be getting offers to play 20-something stereotypes. Silver lining!

About Naufal Khan

Publisher & editor of Indian Spice.

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