What Can Brown Do For You…in US Popular Culture?
The South Asian community comprises a large portion of the US population, yet there has been little presence of South Asians in popular American entertainment, much less an accurate portrayal of their “desi-ness”. In the last few years, however, some artists have started making their place in mainstream American entertainment. For better or worse, here are my thoughts on the top personalities that come to mind.
|Clockwise from top: Mindy Kaling, Jay Sean, Priyanka Chopra, Kal Penn|
Kal Penn first got his fame through his hilarious portrayal of Kumar in Harold and Kumar Go to Whitecastle. While it was great to see an Indian as a central character in a movie, his name was the extent of the “Indian-ness” portrayed (and perhaps fairly so, because ethnicity wasn’t a central aspect of the movie). In the years following, Kal Penn has developed an even bigger name for himself with his roles in The Namesake and Robin’s funny boyfriend/therapist in How I Met Your Mother, and perhaps more importantly, as an active democrat working for President Obama. It’s great to see him gain success but I’m left wanting more from him regarding some ownership of his Indian pride.
Where Kal Penn left off, Minday Kaling picks up and runs with it! Mindy first gained popularity in the hit show The Office, but it’s her recent show The Mindy Project that has me hooked. It is so refreshing to see a brown female succeed as a comedian/artist and not ignore her ethnicity in the process! While Mindy’s character doesn’t revolve around her being Indian, there are meaningful nods to her background. I especially love her relationship with her brother Rishi on the show and her botched attempts at Indian cooking.
Jay Sean gained popularity in the South Asian underground music scene in Britain back in 2003 with the release of his song “Dance With You”. The song quickly topped the music charts, but it was his immensely catchy song “Down” that made him popular in the US. Not only is he talented (and good looking), he’s been able to successfully blend his South Asian roots with hip hop/RnB music. I hear that he recently released a new song which I can’t wait to listen to!
A household name in India due to her immense fame in Bollywood, Priyanka Chopra is a newbie in US popular culture. Last year, she decided to foray into the singing world with the release of her song “In My City” during NFL Thursday Night Football. She also just recently released a new song “Exotic” in collaboration with Pitbull. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of either of the songs. It’s great to see her presence in the US pop scene, but her songs aren’t cutting it for me. Firstly, how can anyone “feel so exotic” – you either ARE exotic or you’re not. Secondly, it is just perpetuating the stereotypical notion of India being an “exotic” far-off land. I also feel like she is not using her strengths – why would she forgo her excellent dancing abilities and settle on some silly hand moves in the music video? Regardless, she does look smoking, and I guess there are plenty of other folks who love it her songs and music videos.
Who are the top actors/singers that have made an impact on you recently? Stay tuned for an upcoming post on the increasing popularity (and rightfully so!) of Indian fashion designers!