Posted on March 27, 2017
Ram Charan talked to college students a few days ago. This accomplished actor / dancer / producer / entrepreneur told the students that he loved being a college student - but that he hoped they would all set goals at an early age, and pursue them with dedication.
Charan is Indian, and he works in "Tollywood" - that is, he is in the business of making films in the Teluga language. (Teluga is an official language in several different states in India and is the primary language in those states and among sizable minorities in other locations.)
Charan has won loads of awards and is one of the highest paid actors in Tollywood, and he started his own production company.
I have heard several times from Asian American students what is apparently commonly acknowledged: Asian men, including Asian American men, are one of the least and worst represented groups in Hollywood. In other words - they are mostly absent, and even when they are present, they are usually minor roles, stereotypes, and negative (bad / evil / unpleasant) characters. They are rarely complex, funny, or romantic "leading men."
One of my husband's high school friends made a wonderful living playing mostly bad guys in movies and TV shows, but I'm happy that other movie-making centers like Bollywood and Tollywood exist.
To learn more about Asian men in Hollywood, you could watch the 2006 documentary The Slanted Screen on Amazon video. Of course, being a decade old, the documentary was filmed before all these great TV characters were created:
Tim Kang in The Mentalist - a regular but not leading character, with a bit of the inscrutable stereotype but certainly some nuance and complexity as the show continued for seven seasons
John Cho in Selfie - the romantic lead who is comic gold - but the series was cancelled WAY-way-way too soon
John Cho in Flash Forward and Go On - Cho is also great in minor roles!
Daniel Dae Kim in Hawaii Five-O - a regular in an ensemble cast, Kim plays the action-hero lead and the romantic lead in some story lines and has a ton of complexity
Danny Pudi in Community and Powerless - I loved-loved-loved Pudi's extremely funny, unexpected, and complex character in Community
Masi Oka in Heroes and Hawaii Five-O - one of the most memorable characters in almost any cast, Oka became a breakout character in Heroes
Jon Foo in Rush Hour - a bit stereotypical, in that Foo plays Jackie Chan's original movie character / martial arts expert - but a starring role
Aziz Ansari in Master of None (if it were a movie, it would have an R rating) - this is so funny AND Ansari created the series as well as stars in it
Randall Park in Fresh Off the Boat - a very funny major character in a show that some think misrepresents "the Asian American experience" but that also portrays one small slice of the Asian American experience and that can therefore start valuable conversations
Kunal Nayyar in The Big Bang Theory - a funny and quirky main character on a popular show
Dev Patel in Newsroom - a very minor character, but played with passion
Kal Penn in House and Designated Survivor - Penn is good at pointing out the racism and stereotyping in Hollywood, as well as at playing even minor roles with nuance
Alex Mallari, Jr., in Dark Matter - again, an ensemble cast; again, a martial-arts specialist
I am really happy that things are getting better for Asian and Asian American (and British Asian) men in Hollywood... More diverse characters, more starring roles, more comedy and romance as well as martial arts and action-adventure, and - crucially - at least a little bit more voice in plots, characters, and how the characters are played.
Onward and upward!
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