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Kumail Nanjiani Ensured ‘Eternals’ Hero Rejected ‘Brown Dude’ Stereotypes Like Nerd or Terrorist

The comedian made it a top priority to change the way American pop culture views people from Pakistan or the Middle East.

Kumail Nanjiani, "Eternals"

Kumail Nanjiani, “Eternals”

Disney

Much buzz has been generated over Kumail Nanjiani packing on pounds of muscle to play a superhero in Chloé Zhao’s upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe tentpole “Eternals,” but he recently told the Los Angeles Times that his physical transformation was just one of many choices he advocated for to ensure his character bared none of the stereotypes that have defined “brown dudes” in film and television. The comedian stars in “Eternals” as Kingo, a superhero who can project cosmic energy from his hands. Kingo lives on Earth as a popular Bollywood movie star.

“I’ve been in this industry for about a decade and I looked at the usual opportunities that the brown dudes get,” Nanjiani said about accepting his “Eternals” role. “We get to be nerdy. I wanted him to be the opposite of that — I wanted him to be cool. With nerdy goes ‘weakling,’ and I wanted him to be the opposite of that and to be strong physically. Or we get to be terrorists, and I wanted him to be the opposite of that. I wanted him to be this character full of joy. In working with Chloé, we were like, let’s take every single thing that I haven’t gotten to do and make a character who’s the exact opposite of the way a lot of American pop culture see people from Pakistan or the Middle East.”

Nanjiani added, “I was very lucky that Chloé was really on board with that. Because when you have like 10 characters, you’re trying to set yourself apart from the other characters and find your own shadings. You’re not going to get a ton of real estate. So you want it to come from a very specific place. I decided going in, I’m going to have fun during this process.”

Zhao’s “Eternals” ensemble cast also includes Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Gemma Chan, Lauren Ridloff, Brian Tyree Henry, Salma Hayek, Lia McHugh, Don Lee, and Kit Harington. The film takes place after the events of “Avengers: Endgame” and centers on a group of immortal aliens who have lived on Earth for over 7,000 years as they reunite to protect humanity from the villainous Deviants.

“Eternals” opens in theaters November 5.

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