Recent insensitivity shows Hollywood’s racist tendencies

November 10, 2015 — by Katherine Zhou

Actors grapple with taking roles that reinforce stereotypes or not working at all and the continued stereotypes are being reflected in today's entertainment.

“Nicki Minaj, come down here right now!”

A young African-American girl, donning a large fake butt, runs down the stairs and bends over, showing her behind to the audience. Her parents, also wearing extremely padded butts, walk out, comically knocking down everything everything in their path.

This skit was featured on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” where daytime television host Ellen DeGeneres gave a “preview” of Nicki Minaj’s new ABC show about her childhood. DeGeneres received criticism for seemingly suggesting that all African-Americans have big butts.

“I think that [DeGeneres] intended to poke harmless fun at specifically [Minaj’s] butt because it's such a big part of [her] image,” junior Julie Cai said. “However, given the history of blackface and other types of cultural appropriation in theater, comedians like [DeGeneres] could be more aware of how certain jokes could be misinterpreted.”

This is not an isolated incident. Too often new television shows center on stereotypes. For example, the new Netflix series “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” features a character named Dong Nguyen who reinforces Asian stereotypes of having thickly accented English and an affinity for math.

Moreover, minorities have fewer opportunities for diverse, engaging parts and are sometimes discriminated against in Hollywood.

Indian-American actor Aziz Ansari, known for his role as Tom Haverford on “Parks and Recreation,” was faced with this challenge. Because he refused to put on an Indian accent on screen, he had to turn down a role in the 2007 movie “Transformers.”

"Should I do an accent? Should I not do the accent? That's a thing that a lot of minority actors grapple with," Ansari said during an Entertainment Weekly Fest Q&A.

Like Ansari, many actors  face the dilemma between taking roles that reinforce stereotypes or not working at all. In fact, sophomore Hannah Yoon said offensive roles are often created for specific races.

One example that Yoon recalled a story about a “CSI” role description, which read “40-year-old angry Asian man, five seconds, pulls down pants to show tiny [private parts].”

According to Yoon, the role was cut after receiving criticism. She said that such roles reinforce stereotypes are too crude for her taste.

For her part, Cai said that although Hollywood perpetuates stereotypes, it's not always intentional. Rather, it is our society’s natural instinct to stereotype different cultures.  

Yoon said she has actually experienced racism in Hollywood first-hand. When she tried to win a spot on “The X-Factor” in middle school, she received an email saying the show had already reached its quota of minorities.

“[I felt] betrayed and annoyed that [the casting directors] wouldn't say [that they didn’t want person of color] aloud,” she said. “As one African-American person put it, very well in my opinion, ‘a world without people of color kind of looks like Hollywood today,’” Yoon said.

In the end, both Cai and Yoon said that it is unacceptable to laugh at the seemingly harmless racial jokes and stereotypes in shows.

“I think that the only people who really have a say are the subjects themselves,” Cai said. “Other people may certainly have their own opinions on politically correct comedy, but to allow other people to speak for minority groups is to perpetuate their oppression.”

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