Storytellers of Color Are Here to Stay
“What is it with this brown comedian wave? It’s a little overkill now.”
The movie in question tells the story of a Pakistani comic named Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) who enters a relationship with a white graduate student named Emily (Zoe Kazan). Complications arise when Emily finds out she’s been kept a secret for months from Kumail’s family, a commonality that exists when brown people date someone, especially outside of their culture and religion. They break up, and things become even more complicated when Emily is put into a medically-induced coma after she falls ill. The plot thickens when we watch Kumail juggle his Muslim parents’ traditional expectations, and Emily’s concerned parents (Holly Hunter, Ray Romano).
In short, it’s a very original story. And while the two showings I’ve been to ended in an overwhelming amount of applause, there must be more people who have the same question as this man who had an issue with this “brown comedian wave.”
It wasn’t surprising to me that this man was white. And to an extent, I understand his frustration; we often hear about how Aziz Ansari is the Master of None, how Hasan Minhaj is the Homecoming King, and now how Kumail Nanjiani’s a rom-com hero in The Big Sick. For real, what’s with all these South Asian people killing it? The upset man must have been referring to these comedians and their seemingly-ubiquitous presence in the media.
Personally, as a Muslim Pakistani-American male, I can relate very easily to these characters. It also doesn’t hurt that moviegoers are growing warmer to artists of color. But it’s true that seeing the same guy that looks like he could be related to the other guys in entertainment can get tiring. But I only named four brown comedians. And I know this upset man can’t deny he’s represented just fine when it comes to comedy: Louis CK, Jim Gaffigan, Rob Delaney, Mike Birbiglia, John Mulaney and many more. All of these names join Aziz Ansari and Hasan Minhaj on Netflix. So why’s he upset? Clearly, he thinks that there’s too much of the same guy — “the same guy” meaning a brown man who has to keep his white love interest a secret from his immigrant parents.
The counterargument against the man’s frustration is simple: this is an honest portrayal of a person of color. As a matter of fact, The Big Sick is the true story of how its writers, Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, met and fell in love.
When you look at the history of entertainment, it’s objectively unfair to criticize that people of color are finally portraying their stories on screens, no matter how similar they may be. I’m not saying you have to like it, or that you should filter your dislike for it to make sure no person of color gets offended; what I am saying is that it’s groundless to already request something else because you think you’ve seen enough brown people on a screen. The entertainment industry shoved white faces down our throats for decades, and they still do. A studio executive’s note for Moonlight was “So, where are the white people?” I was actually wondering where the Black people were in Whiplash, y’know, that movie about jazz.
Beyond the fact that Sean Connery, David Niven, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig all acted in similar fictitious movies, they all played the same exact character. And who even is James Bond? A white guy who sleeps around with skinny ladies and kills bad guys and looks really cool doing it. So, actually, we’re talking about nearly every action movie ever. No one really complains about that.
I think a scene from The Big Sick can actually be applied pretty well here. In his apartment, Kumail and his parents discuss how they came to this country for opportunity and how assimilation, and therefore diversity, is inevitable regardless of how much of a traditionalist you may be. Whether it annoys you or not, people of color will continue to prove themselves as creative geniuses, eventually assimilating into the ranks of great artists like Robin Williams, Steve Martin, Jerry Seinfeld, and a bunch of other white guys.
Ultimately, it’s just irrational to already be tired of non-whites dominating the box office and television. This isn’t one of those cases in which we have a story that needs to be told and every moral person should watch it and reflect on it; rather, we just have some original content, and it’s selling really well. I have never been in a packed theater and heard such collective, roaring laughter before. For people who aren’t brown, they enjoy something because they have no idea what’s going to happen next. For people who are brown, we enjoy something because we can finally relate on a personal level.
So, please don’t mind if some of us end up becoming really entertaining storytellers. You can move past the fact that a protagonist doesn’t look like you as much as they usually do, and once you do that, you’ll really enjoy yourself.