Longtime Bollywood icon Anil Kapoor (known in America as the anchor in Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire) has been roped in for some cameos in Season 8 of the hit television cult series 24.
That’s great for the presence of Indians on American television but what is up with Indian actors playing the role of “Middle Easterners” in Western scripts? It is certainly a trend.
Anil Kapoor plays “Omar Hassan” in 24, a Middle Eastern leader who comes to the U.S. on a peace-making mission.
In I Can’t Think Straight, Bollywood actor Lisa Ray was roped in to play a Jordanian (with a really bad accent, might I add). She’s forgiven due to her unforgivable chemistry with Sheetal Sheth.
But wait. Why not actually roping in an actor from the Middle East to play these roles?
Kal Penn, also of Indian origin, has already done a stint on the series, albeit as a terrorist. I suppose some particular features serve as a proxy for ‘terrorism’ as much as being Latino serves as a proxy for ‘illegal status.’
Of course, there is a difference between mis-representing and under-representing. Ben Kingsley played Gandhi with finesse and character. Straight actors on the L Word portayed their gay roles with compelling performances that made us doubt their heterosexuality.
Still, it begs the question – Why not increase the visibility of Arab-Americans and other peoples from Central Asia and the Middle East on the global platform and tackle stereotypes by giving them such positive roles? There is not a lack of people who can perform in such roles.