What types of roles did a funny, up-and-coming Indian American actor get offered 10 or so years ago? In a blistering, illuminating series of tweets, Kal Penn posted screenshots of various scripts that he’d received in the early years of his career, providing a sad but hardly surprising answer to the question. And despite producing around a dozen examples, Penn wrapped up his posts on Tuesday by adding, “There are too many in this stack to tweet.”
Penn exposed exposed programs ranging from Sabrina the Teenage Witch to “some shitty MTV show” to King of Queens (which he “used to love”—until he had the chance to audition for it). The script excerpts he has provided cover familiar, racist terrain: descriptions of “funny” extreme Indian accents, “humorous” mix-ups over how to pronounce Indian names, and characters who speak in a language that’s “peppered with Indian cultural references.” Penn captioned the scripts by recounting fights over accents—“Can you make his accent a little more AUTHENTIC?”—and general stereotyping.
Penn’s tweets serve as a sobering reminder of where the state of pop culture representation was not too long ago—and, more hopefully, give an indication of how we’ve progressed, slowly but steadily, in the years since. Pakistani actor Kumail Nanjiani, for one, saw Penn’s tweets as a blast from that unfortunate past. “I remember seeing these kinds of things when I was starting,” he tweeted in response. “We still have a long way to go but we have come so very far.”
Safe to say that these two actors probably aren’t the only ones with such dispiriting past experiences in Hollywood.