This week, Indian-American actor Kal Penn took to Twitter to share a few scripts from his early days in show business. Instead of simply being a nostalgic trip down memory lane, however, the show-and-tell turned into an example of Hollywood's problem with typecasting.
The Harold and Kumar star, who currently appears in Designated Survivor, frequently auditioned for roles that painted Indian characters as stereotypes, including a "Gandhi lookalike" and "snake charmers."
Penn also shared that he was often asked to give his characters accents, and his requests not to were denied. "'Can you make his accent a little more AUTHENTIC?' That usually meant they wanted Apu," he wrote of one of the scripts.
Another common trope involved his characters' names being difficult to pronounce — if they were given names at all.
Not every experience was bad, however. Penn also shared that several television series, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer and 24, were run by "really smart, creative people who didn't have to use external things to mask subpar writing."
He also shared an old ratings report for the series House to prove that casting without regard to race or gender can lead to success.
The actor's tweets highlight Hollywood's frequently problematic relationship to race, and show the importance of onscreen representation that that not only gives more roles to non-White performers, but also represents them in a respectful manner.
Penn is no stranger to using social media to challenge racism. Earlier this year, he raised more than half a million dollars for Syrian refugees after someone told him he didn't belong in the United States.