By Belinda Cai
New Netflix series “Master of None” from Aziz Ansari. “Master of None” Twitter.
Whether you think it’s hilarious or just miss Tom Haverford, there’s no denying that Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None” is important. I haven’t been able to peruse social media without seeing swathes of people and media outlets posting about the show since its release on Netflix a little over a week ago. Among them was actress Diane Mizota, one of my Facebook friends and someone I interviewed for my grad school capstone project about Asian-Americans in Hollywood. She claimed she couldn’t get enough of the show and especially liked the second episode that addressed immigrant parents.
As Ansari’s chipper face fills my screen every few scrolls, so do conversations about the importance of diversity in Hollywood. One article for the New York Times came from Ansari himself. He talks about why his show changes the game. Almost all have praised “Master of None”for finally bringing “real” Asian-Americans to television. And I get that. Dev, the lead character played by Ansari, truly feels like a guy I’d know or a guy you’d know. He may be Indian, but he’s not a cab driver or 7-Eleven owner; he’s Asian but not a tiger parent or geek; he’s a minority but not the advice-giving best friend. He doesn’t fit into any kind of character trope, really. He’s just such a normal, believable guy. At the heart of the show is a millennial coming-of-age tale where Dev tries to navigate the usual — his relationships, family life and career — like anyone else, with the same kind of sometimes-awkward observational humor found in Louie. It’s sincere and rarely feels like it’s trying too hard.
Of course there are the moving scenes about the minority and second generation immigrant experience, namely in the episode “Parents.” That one had me and several others I know close to tears thinking about our own parents who immigrated here from China or elsewhere. Sweeter yet, Ansari’s real parents play Dev’s onscreen ones. It’s great to see them, along with the other minorities, who are Taiwanese, black and Indian, in Dev’s friend squad. There are additional morsels of racial commentary sprinkled throughout the season, such as Dev’s difficulties auditioning for non-stereotypical movie roles, ignorant comments made about his interracial relationship and a picture Dev receives from kids that inadvertently portrays him in a racist light.
It goes without saying that it’s refreshing to see my own experiences as a minority, good or bad, reflected onscreen. Like Dev, I remember growing up and thinking, There’s the Yellow Power Ranger on TV. She’s cool. But where are the other people like me? Some scenes felt too familiar. More so, I knew Mizota could relate, as an Asian-American actress who’s been in both Ansari’s and Dev’s shoes many times before. She’s had to struggle with finding auditions and playing stereotypical characters such as her best-known role Fook Mi in “Austin Powers in Goldmember.” I reached out to her and actor Aaron Takahashi, who was in “The Wedding Ringer” and also featured in my capstone, for their takes on the popular show:
ACRO: What did you like about the show?
Mizota: I laughed out loud from the first episode. Aziz is so insightful about so many aspects of modern life; he is my people! [I liked] the guest stars, the casting, the stories, the location and Aziz’s point of view. It addresses being Asian-American without hitting anyone over the head. It’s not the punchline. It’s Aziz sharing his experiences and the fact that he is Indian-American is just part of the fabric of the storytelling. Also, I relate as an actor, a woman and a parent. The show addresses so many things that you never get to see on television.
Takahashi: I like that Aziz Ansari’s character Dev has a diverse group of friends: his Indian actor friends, a Chinese guy, a black lesbian woman and one white dude. I also like that his parents are played by his actual parents. It’s funny, well-written for the most part and uniquely Aziz Ansari’s voice. I love that the show is about an actor of color trying to make it in the entertainment industry and that it addresses issues that Asian-American actors face.
So how do you relate to it, being Asian-American actors?
Mizota: I make my living in commercials, so I see a lot of my experiences in the show. The episode when the TV executive took him to the Knicks game… that was genius. I came up in this business when there could only be “one”… only one working Asian-American actress, not one per show, so I found that episode awesome for addressing the narrow-mindedness of networks.
Takahashi: As an Asian-American actor, one thing that I especially identified with was the question of whether or not to audition for characters who have accents. I thought the show did a great job of highlighting the struggle between not being okay with doing it because it perpetuates stereotypes and one-dimensional characters, and willing to do it because you want/need the work.
Do you feel like it effectively addresses relevant issues related to race and gender?
Mizota: Yes! It addresses all of these issues in such a natural and relevant way. I love that the show isn’t just about him being a working Indian-American actor. It goes so much deeper than that, into his relationships, family and friends, in such a compelling and funny way, to show that people of color have compelling, entertaining, fully realized stories. [It shows] that we can be the protagonist of a quality story and that a diverse audience will embrace that and actually wants to see themselves onscreen and support it so that the powers that be will make more.
Takahashi: When Dev and Brian talk about their parents, they mention something that sort of hits the nail right on the head: every immigrant story is essentially the same; the parents struggle in their homeland and move to the States for a better life for themselves and their children. The difference, of course, is in the individual details. Dev and Brian commenting that they’ve never heard certain stories from their parents before rings true to me. I always thought it was a JA (Japanese-American) thing, but it took a long time for my parents and grandparents to share certain details about their pasts.
Check out “Master of None” on Netflix! For more from show creators Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang, check them out on Fresh Air’s podcast. For a more informal take, read their AMA on reddit.