Remember that scene in Aziz Ansari's "Master of None," when his character Dev and fellow actor Ravi audition for the role of Unnamed Cab Driver on a crime procedural show? Dev tries a scene in his own voice, and the casting director flatly asks him to do an accent -- an Indian accent, Dev learns. "Ben Kingsley did an accent for 'Gandhi,'" the director muses. Well.
"As an Asian American actor, the number of racist, stereotyped auditions I go on would blow your buns off," actress Soojeong Son reiterates in a new Kickstarter campaign. "AND the number of times my characters are violently raped in these stories, for the sake of being 'provocative,' would blow your eyebrows off!"
Soojeong, better known as SJ, is one half of the comedy duo SJ and Ginny. She and her comedic partner, Ginny Leise, recently launched a crowdsourced campaign in support of their project, "Urban Teach Now," a TV pilot that challenges the lack of Asian American actors and stories on television.
"Urban Teach Now" follows Eunice Son, "an achievement-obsessed recent grad, who joins a non-profit teaching program [similar to Teach for America] after being rejected from her dream job on Wall Street." As the pilot's summary states, Eunice lands at a New Orleans public high school, backed by an illustrious B.A. in business management and her own sense of "unflagging entitlement." She is, to put it lightly, not equipped to deal with her new job, let alone the many challenges associated with relating to students.
But beyond Eunice's personal story, the pilot highlights broader ideas associated with diversity on TV and racism in America. "Urban Teach Now shamelessly talks about race and racism from the Asian point of view," SJ and Ginny add on Kickstarter. "From the racism Eunice encounters and reciprocates with her black students and white co-workers, to her own unconscious racism she perpetuates toward her Asian students."
The mere existence of a strong Asian American character that doesn't succumb to tired stereotypes is radical in and of itself. SJ and Ginny cite dismal statistics from Fusion on their campaign page, which claim only 8 percent of network TV shows number more than one Asian actor in their main casts. In the past, the duo hasn't shied away from confronting feminist issues through the lens of comedy either, and this is no exception.
"Being marginalized can be discouraging," SJ and Ginny concluded. "But being the insanely ambitious, restless creators we are, we decided to change this. We wrote a story about an Asian American woman who has agency, is the driver of the story, not an accessory, and the anti-hero of a hilarious and surprisingly sad story of a struggling teacher."