“Master of None” has been a boon for showcasing diversity with its inclusive casting and storylines that take a look at people who don’t always get screen time. From its Asian-American leading man Aziz Ansari and a slew of supporting cast who are people of color (and one who is gay) to the unique narratives that shift the spotlight to underserved groups, the Netflix series is also a standout for diversity behind the camera. It’s currently only one of a handful of TV series that can boast Asian-American creators.
Alan Yang, who created the series alongside Ansari, alluded to the importance of representation behind the scenes in his Emmy acceptance speech in 2016.
“Seventeen million Asian-Americans in this country, and there are 17 million Italian-Americans,” he said. “They have ‘The Godfather,’ ‘Goodfellas,’ ‘Rocky,’ ‘The Sopranos’; we got Long Duk Dong. So we got a long way to go, but I know we can get there. I believe in us. I’s just going to take a lot of hard work. Asian parents out there — if you could do me a favor — just a couple of you get your kids cameras instead of violins. We’ll be all good.”
Invision for Netflix
Yang spoke to IndieWire about that speech, which sent ripples of pride and fire among Asian-Americans, who have been speaking up more and more, especially in regards to their depiction and inclusion in pop culture.
“I couldn’t be more gratified with the response that seems to have risen from that speech,” he said.
“I’m not on TV. That’s one of the only times that I’ve ever been on TV, and sometimes I’ll be walking around New York, and an Asian kid will recognize me. He probably saw the Emmys, because otherwise how the hell would he know who I was?”
Yang expanded on why he made a point to address the issue of having Asian-Americans behind the scenes in order to create the representation we want to see onscreen.
“The longer version of that speech is: I didn’t see any Asian people who reminded me of myself on TV when I was growing up. I just didn’t,” he said. “There just wasn’t a guy. If there was a guy, he was Jackie Chan, and he’s great, but he’s not Asian-American. He’s pretty much Asian. He speaks English with a heavy accent. And god bless him, it’s great. It’s amazing that he’s in movies, but I’m not necessarily a guy who knows martial arts. That’s not every kind of guy, every kind of Asian person.”
Like any group, Asian-Americans deal with stereotypes, such as being hard workers and compliant, marks of being the model minority. Yang voicing such a strong opinion in a thank you speech not only upended the docile stereotype, but also represented a real and tangible example of what he was preaching. As an Asian-American creative, he is able to generate more opportunities for others. He is the change he wants to see. Progress takes time and continued effort though, despite recent Asian-American TV successes.
“An interviewer will point out, ‘You made a lot of progress. You’ve got “Fresh off the Boat” and you’ve got your show,’” Yang said. “Yeah but there’s 450 shows. You’ve got to go back historically too. There’s no sort of history of shows or movies starring Asian-Americans. ‘Joy Luck Club’ and ‘Harold and Kumar.’”
It should be noted that “Better Luck Tomorrow” also starred an Asian-American cast, and the upcoming “Crazy Rich Asians” has also made headlines for its full-Asian cast. On television, “Fresh Off the Boat” and “Master of None” represent well, with AMC’s “Into the Badlands” also touting an Asian-American lead and “Andi Mack” featuring an Asian-American family at its center over on Disney. Plus, “Quantico” and “The Mindy Project” feature women of South Asian descent as their stars.
So far, Yang and Ansari have created two thoughtful and hilarious seasons of “Master of None.” While viewers are clamoring for a third, no decisions have been made yet.
“I’ll say this. Whenever anything interesting or funny or emotional happens in our lives, Aziz and I will just text each other: ‘Hey, this could be something.’ Nothing is formal,” said Yang. “We definitely don’t have a writers room. We haven’t even decided to do another season. I think it’s more like, ‘Hey, we only want to do it if we see there’s something really exciting that to us will blow the first two seasons away.’ I think it’s more like the process of making a sequel to a movie. You don’t want a bunch of sequels that are bad. You want the people to only make the movies if they’re really, really great or if you have something to say. Aziz and I text each other ideas, we see each other, we watch ‘Game of Thrones’ on Sunday. So I won’t ever say that we won’t do another season, because it’s so much fun, but we don’t have anything official yet.”
After its Emmy win for writing in 2016, “Master of None” is looking at eight nominations this year for crafts, Writing, Directing, Lead Actor and Outstanding Comedy Series. Yang hasn’t let the awards attention overtake him, though.
“I don’t feel any pressure, man. It’s all great. It’s good to get attention for the show and get people to watch it,” said Yang. “Other than that, it’s totally out of our control. Who knows what happens for you to win those things? That stuff is totally, totally gravy, on top the very delicious mound of mashed potatoes that is the job. I’m incredibly honored and happy that we were able to win one last year. I am definitely rooting for Aziz and Lena [Waithe] to win the writing one this year. I texted Lena, ‘I want you to win because I want to see what you say up there.’ So I’m rooting for those guys to win the writing Emmy. But I don’t feel any pressure, that’s for sure.”
Yang also shared some behind-the-scenes insights about the show, AKA the delicious mound of mashed potatoes:
The Other Country of Deliciousness
“One of the other things that Aziz and I had in common before we’d even started doing this show is we do really like to travel. One of the great things about working at ‘Parks and Rec’ is you have a couple months off each year, and so we would often use that time to go off on trips with our friends. We started doing that and we went to a few different places. Some of our favorite places were Italy and Japan. So we had Rachel (Noel Wells) go to Japan and Dev go to Italy, because those were the places we liked.”
Season 2’s Scene-Stealers
“We went to Rome to do some casting and that’s how we found little Nico [Ambrosio] who plays Mario in the first episode. He was a revelation. But as far as casting Alessandra [Mastronardi], that is so much based on — obviously she’s a brilliant actress, but she’s actually a big star in Italy. That was the really funny thing. Riccardo Scarmacio, who plays Pino, is also a huge star, so when we were shooting with both of them there were paparazzi. The town of Modena was going crazy. It was like we were shooting with Johnny Depp and Jennifer Lawrence… [Alessandra] is just so charismatic onscreen. It really is like going back and stepping into a time machine and watching those Italian stars from a Fellini movie or a De Sica movie or an Antonioni movie. It’s almost a timeless sort of charm.”
The “Clash of the Cupcakes” Connection
“I watched a fair amount of food TV when I was younger. I haven’t been in that world in a while, but man, growing up I would watch ‘Iron Chef,’ the Japanese one, and I would watch a lot of ‘Top Chef.’ There was a period of time where I was watching a lot of that. And then as far as ‘Cupcake Wars’ goes, we actually are kind of acquainted with Justin Willman, who used to host that show. We just watched a lot of clips of it online. We thought that would be kind of a funny job for Dev. He has his foot in the entertainment world but it may not be his dream job. We thought there would be a lot of silly things we could do in that world.”
The Jabbawockeez’s Amazingly Random Guest Gig
“It’s a fairly young writers room and we all kind of grew up with the same pop culture. When the Jabbawockeez are mentioned, pretty much everybody in the room knows who they are, which is hilarious. All those things about them dancing with Shaq at the All-Star game or them dancing with Taylor Swift, we remember all those things. We just thought it would be such a funny thing to have on the show. We were wondering, ‘Man do we think these guys have seen the show or have heard of the show?’ Aniz [Ansari], one of the writers on the show, was like, ‘Uh, I’m pretty sure they’re like all Asian guys in their late 20s and 30s. I bet they’ve seen the show. The show is made by and designed for people like them, so I think they have seen it.’ They were really cool and very generous with their time.”
Yang’s Most Personal Story in Season 2
“There’s a story that’s about Brian and his dad and his dad’s dating life. I will reserve comment about how much of that is factual, or my dad will get mad at me.”
One Untold Story
“We always wanted to do an episode about alcohol and how it’s really pervasive in our lives and in society in general. I personally have just been interested in how it’s not only involved in our social lives, but it’s sometimes involved in professional lives too where it’s like, ‘Yeah, we’ll have a drinks meeting.’ Why are we all agreeing to drink all the time? And it’s really pervasive in New York and LA, New York especially. Years ago we had a conversation with a friend of ours, and she doesn’t drink. We were like, ‘What is it like when you go to a party?’ She said, ‘It’s horrible! Everyone’s acting crazy!’ So yeah, we shouldn’t just take this for granted. It’s not necessarily cool. I like drinking a glass of wine but why have we all accepted that this is normal? I don’t know. That’s an example of, ‘Okay that’s something, that’s just a one-line idea, so can that become an episode? Maybe. Maybe it’s nothing.’ We’ll come up with a bunch of those at the beginning of the season, and then maybe some will become episodes, maybe some will never become episodes.
“Master of None” Seasons 1 and 2 are currently streaming on Netflix.