When John Badham, director of the 1986 robot comedy Short Circuit, decided to change the character of Ben from a white grad student to an Indian, he could have provided a prominent role for an actual Indian actor. Instead, he hired a white guy. Almost 30 years later, in an intriguing New York Times piece, Master Of None star and creator Aziz Ansari talked to that white guy, actor Fisher Stevens. One of Ansari’s earliest experiences of seeing a movie with an Indian character in the lead role was the 1988 sequel Short Circuit 2. When the comedian learned that the actor playing Ben was white, he felt disillusioned and insulted. After talking to Stevens, who has stayed busy with film and television work, Ansari no longer considers him to be such a villain, just an actor who needed work and was coming up during a culturally insensitive time. To his credit, Fisher Stevens took the assignment seriously and did some considerable research in order to make sure that Ben was not just a stereotype. However, Ansari and Stevens both acknowledge today that the part should have gone to an Indian actor.
While the situation is gradually improving for minority and female performers in Hollywood, Ansari knows how difficult it is to cast anyone but a white guy sometimes. He even describes his own difficulty in finding just the right Asian actor for a part in Master Of None. When it comes to breaking stereotypes in Hollywood, however, Ansari has an unusual example: Arnold Schwarzenegger, who proved that a thick accent and an exotic name were no obstacles to motion picture success:
Look at The Terminator: There had to be someone who heard his name tossed around for the role and thought: Wait, why would the robot have an Austrian accent? No one’s gonna buy that! We gotta get a robot that has an American accent! Just get a white guy from the States. Audiences will be confused. Nope. They weren’t. Because, you know what? No one really cares.