Chippendales actor Kumail Nanjiani said Hollywood is afraid of casting non-white actors as villains, overcorrecting in an effort to appear woke.
Nanjiani, 44, was excited to play the villainous role of strip club owner Somen ‘Steve’ Banerjee in Hulu’s Welcome to Chippendales as he says audiences will rarely see a non-white villain anymore.
‘I’ve never gotten to play an arc like this,’ the Pakistani American actor said of the role to Esquire. ‘By far the most layered, complex, complicated person I’ve ever played.
‘I want to play more bad guys.’
The Silicon Valley actor said he doesn’t believe he would have given the chance to play Steve Banerjee if it wasn’t based on a true story, suggesting the role would have gone to a white actor.
‘I think that Hollywood now – even though they’re trying to be more diverse – is still weird,’ he told the magazine. He went on to say that Hollywood executives are questioning what message is being sent if a non-white actor plays a bad guy, but the actor believes that is ‘as limiting as anything else.’
Kumail Nanjiani, 44, ‘wants to play more bad guys’ after performing as strip club owner Somen ‘Steve’ Banerjee in Hulu’s Welcome to Chippendales. ‘I’ve never gotten to play an arc like this…By far the most layered, complex, complicated person I’ve ever played,’ he said
Nanjiani, who has played a wide variety of roles, including a superhero in Marvel’s Eternals, wants to keep his acting portfolio wide open, much like actor Sebastian Stan, who has played roles in the Marvel Universe as well as a cannibal in the 2022 movie Fresh.
‘He does these big Marvel movies, and then he’ll play a psychopath,’ he said of the Romanian American actor. ‘I was told that’s going to be hard because people don’t want to cast non-white people as bad guys.’
Since the 2000s, moviegoers have seen a lot more white actors playing villains on their screens, from Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight (2008) to Tom Hiddleston as Loki in the Marvel Universe (2011-2021).
Before then, villain roles often went to people of color and several roles portrayed Arabs as terrorists. Art Malik, a Pakistani-British actor, famously played Salim Abu Aziz in the 1994 film True Lies, which follows Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character tracking down nuclear missiles from Malik’s.
The $100million film, which was written by Titanic’s James Cameron, sees Malik play the main antagonist as a henchman.
Another blockbuster, Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, also features a non-white villain – Marsellus Wallace, played by Ving Rhames. Rhames’ character is a gang leader whose life intertwines with two mob hitmen, a boxer, and diner bandits in tales of violence across Los Angeles.
Nanjiani doesn’t believe he would have gotten the murderous role if it wasn’t based on a true story, as he said Hollywood is now scared to cast non-white villains. ‘I think that Hollywood now – even though they’re trying to be more diverse – is still weird,’ he said
Throughout the 1990s, many villain roles were played by people of color, including Art Malik (right) in True Lies, who played Salim Abu Aziz in the 1994 film
Another popular 1994 film, Pulp Fiction, also featured a non-white villain, as Ving Rhames (left) played a gang boss. Although there’s been a decrease in people of color playing villain roles, it’s not obsolete. Rami Malek (right) played a villain in the James Bond movie No Time To Die in 2021
However, not every major 80s and 90s villain role went to a person of color. Hugo Weaving played Agent Smith in the Matrix (1999), Anthony Hopkins played Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs (1991), and Alan Rickman played Hans Gruber in Die Hard (1988).
In a similar respect, Nanjiani is not the only non-white actor to play the villain in recent years.
Rami Malek played Lyutsifer Safin in No Time To Die, a James Bond movie, in 2021. The American actor, whose parents are from Egypt, plays a terrorist leader and scientist who’s looking to take down a criminal organization in vengeance for the death of his family.
Nanjiani believes the increase in white villains is because Hollywood is worried about what message is being sent when a person of color plays a bad guy. However, there were white villains in the 80s and 90s, including Alan Rickman in Die Hard (left) and Hugo Weaving in the Matrix (right)
More recent roles feature white villains include Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008) and Tom Hiddleston in the Marvel Universe (2011-2021)
Hollywood has been working to add more diversity in recent years, according to the Hollywood Diversity Report – a study performed by UCLA for the past decade. In the 2022 report, it found that roughly four out of 10 lead actors were people of color in the 2020-2021 film year.
Women lead movies were also gaining in popularity.
However, budgets for TV episode saw a staggering difference from those created by white men and those created by people of color or women.
‘We saw an uptick in opportunity for people of color and women having their shows greenlit, which should be a marker of progress,’ Ana-Christina Ramón, who directs the report at UCLA, told the Los Angeles Times.
‘However, when we examined the episodic budgets of all the TV series, we see a strong pattern indicating that shows created by people of color and women tended to receive smaller budgets than those created by white men, particularly in the digital arena.’
Nearly half of white male showrunners enjoyed a $3million budget, whereas their counterparts did not. The majority of filmmakers, regardless of skin color, enjoy around a $1 to $1.99milion TV episode budget, according to the report.
‘The next few years may be a test of whether Hollywood is truly committed to the changes they promised during the nation’s reckoning on race following the murder of George Floyd,’ Ramón said.
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