Saturday Night Live‘s mock screen tests of Hollywood actors interpreting a film adaptation of 50 Shades of Gray seemed promising:
Then this happened:
Yup, that’s comedienne Nasim Pedrad in drag (yay!) and brownface (boo!) dressed up as Aziz Ansari; to her credit, she pulls off a remarkable impersonation of Ansari. But again, brownface? This comes in a season where SNL has added six new cast members — all white. It also comes at an auspicious time for South Asians in entertainment: The Mindy Project remains one of the crowning jewels of FOX’s Tuesday night line-up; Ansari himself continues to amuse as Tom Haverford on Parks & Recreation; Naveen Andrews is set to return to the small screen in ABC’s Once Upon A Time In Wonderland (albeit, in a problematic role that we can discuss at another time!) — and a stable of newer faces are finding fans, too, such as Royal Pains‘ Reshma Shetty and even Summer Bishil, of ABC’s now-canceled Lucky 7. If SNL is really that hard-pressed to find some amazing South Asian talent, we recommend they give Lilly Singh a call.
But, to blame Pedrad would be unfair; after all, fellow SNL cast member Fred Armisen helped develop the SNL reputation for putting on brownface for a few laughs. And Pedrad as Ansari isn’t as gauche as, say, Peter Sellers donning brownface to portray a bungling, ignorant-of-the-world Indian actor in the 1968 film The Party.
It’s hardly the first time in American films that a white actor used brownface for cheap chuckles, but the point remains. For SNL to draw comparisons with a Peter Sellers flick from the ’60s nearly half a century later is troubling. This is just mediocre and anachronistic at best.