Growing up, I watched all your typical kids' shows: "Wizards of Waverly Place," "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody," "iCarly," "Victorious," you name it. I loved all of these shows as much as my little twelve-year-old heart would allow (I might still be a bit obsessed with them…you'll never know), but as much as I fervently kept up with each of these shows, I could never find anyone who looked and acted like me in them. Every time I saw an Indian character in one of these shows, they would always be super nerdy, have an extremely heavy accent, and be so frail and skinny that they, naturally, would be the prime target for bullies at school.
Let's get one thing straight: Indian kids are not like that. Asian kids are not like that. All of us went to school and found our own little niches to fit into. Me? I was athletic, I was outgoing, and I loved math. My friends were like me: we all (kind of) liked school, but none of us were so obsessed with it that we talked, slept, and breathed academics every second of the day. Most of my friends played at least one sport, and we all had different hobbies and interests, a far cry from what we all saw on TV growing up.
I watched a lot of Bollywood movies growing up (I still love them), so I guess I got my representation through that form of media, but it was a bit discouraging to see "Indian representation" in the media most readily available to me in the form of discriminatory and condescending screenwriting. Whenever I watched an American show with an Indian character, I couldn't stomach watching them on screen for longer than about five minutes—I would then find something else to watch, where I could pretend that I was the same as everyone else.
As I grew up, however, I noticed things changing, albeit slowly. I remember watching the movie "Lion" starring the one and only Dev Patel. Not only is he a brilliant actor, but he played the role of an Indian man who grew up in a place outside of India—he was just a normal guy, trying to find his origins, but he maintained the balance between where he came from and where he grew up. The story was fantastically written and I don't think anyone could have acted that role better than Patel did. The movie did not exoticize India in the slightest and did not present either country in the movie, Australia or India, as inferior to the other—they were presented as different, each holding a different part of Patel's character's life and identity. This was probably the best example of Indian representation in mainstream American media I have seen to date.
This past summer, Jon Chu's "Crazy Rich Asians" was released, and with it, a full Asian cast giving Asian Americans the representation they craved and deserve in the American media. This movie was absolutely brilliant—it brought two very different cultures together while maintaining the key aspects of both, striking close to home for a lot of Asian Americans who have had to find this same balance between their two cultures. The characters were not written to fit into boxes of crazy, nerdy, obsessive, and spoiled—to name a few Asian stereotypes I have come across in my time watching TV—but rather as people with multifaceted personalities, people with many motivations, dreams, and drivers behind their actions. Basically, we got some well-written Asian characters in a well-written movie, and I loved it.
Asian-American representation has admittedly gotten better through the years, but it still has a ways to go before every Asian person in the United States can say that they are as equally represented and valued as every other person living in this country. "Lion" and "Crazy Rich Asians" were major steps in the right direction, but I am excited to see what Hollywood comes up with next. Maybe a movie with a full Indian-American cast?