Master of None: And What It means to be Asian in America

Friday September 1, 2017

The term “golden age of TV” has been around for quite some time now; since the late 2000s, with shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Walking Dead, and Game of Thrones, the viewers have been exposed to quality content that no movies could offer. And the expansion of streaming services into creating their original projects seemed to only increase the amount of great content; shows like Orange is the New Black and House of Cards became downright sensations without having to air a single episode on primetime television.

There is a trend, however, among these shows previously mentioned. While they are radically different in subject matter, genre, and even the target audience, all of these shows feature casts that are predominantly white. It doesn’t matter if the show is set in a fantasy land or the White House, there are only white people to be seen. What’s even worse is that I can’t name a single Asian character from any of these shows. While Glenn from Walking Dead was a major character since the beginning, his death didn’t lead into a new Asian character. At this point, the marginalization of Asians in media shouldn’t even surprise anyone; the history of underrepresentation, or even worse, misrepresentation of Asians goes as far back as the beginning of commercialized motion picture. The industry either wants Asian actors to put on an accent or completely disregard them.

Now, there is Master of None . A show featuring an Asian protagonist. A show written and produced by two Asian creators. A show that speaks directly about what it means to be Asian in an industry full of prejudice and misunderstanding. And this show also happens to be one of the most critically acclaimed series Netflix has ever created. Master of None follows Dev, a struggling 30 something actor living in New York, as he goes through various hardships like going to a friend’s wedding, dealing with parents, and deciding whether marriage is right for him or not. The set up is typical to say the least – the ‘30 something living the single life in New York is it’s own genre at this point in pop culture, the entirety of Friends and How I Met your Mother can back me upbut there is something special about Aziz Ansari’s comedy drama. While this show may follow the format of your typical NBC sitcom, Master of None tells that similar story from the perspective of an Asian man.

The show is semi-autobiographical to Ansari’s real life, and one can definitely find the cultural influences from Tamil, India all over the series. He has immigrant parents who moved to New York during the 70s, he visits mosques, and he enjoys fine Asian cuisines. The co-creator of the show Alan Yang is a Taiwanese American, and his on-show counterpart Brian Yang goes through situations any Asian American would, from getting confused for another nationality to slowly forgetting your first language. The Asian influence upon the show is very much prominent, but the show’s point is never to be ‘that Asian show’.

Master of None doesn’t focus on what being an Asian American is, but rather what being an Asian American isn’t. The show explores the idea of stereotypes and reality quite often. In the episode “Indians on TV”, Dev is asked to put on an accent during his casting process. Later in the series, Brian’s father goes out on a dating spree with other women of his age. The stoic, quite, awkward, and briny tropes of Asians are completely thrown out the window. Instead, they are portrayed as real human beings. Just because Dev is an Indian doesn’t mean he won’t go out on multiple Tinder dates in one night. Asians are the same as the rest of America. While we may appear to be different or have different cultural backgrounds, in the core we are all Americans, and we are what make this country great.

Looking at Iron Fist, a Netflix show that is also full of Asian cultural influences, it’s easy to tell what Aziz Ansari’s comedy does so well that other shows don’t. The lead character of Iron Fist, despite being trained by Tibetan monks to become the next Kung Fu hero, is white. The enemies he slaughters are all Asian, from ninjas to other masters of Chi, but the main hero of the show is a white man. I don’t even think there is a single Asian character in the whole show who isn’t a martial arts master. So the question is this- why can’t the titular character also be Asian? Master of None has a diverse cast full of amazing actors. The main character we follow is Asian, his best friend is Asian, and his parents are Asian. But, he lives a life that almost anyone of his age can relate to. He goes through the same problems, the same dilemmas, and possesses the same virtues. Because Asians, believe it or not, are also humans, Hollywood.

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