On July 14, the Television Academy handed out Emmy nominations and, with them, plenty of reasons to be excited. Among the numerous hype-worthy choices made by the Academy were four nominations to Aziz Ansari and his Netflix hit comedy series, Master of None. To some extent we expected this, but, really, this is the best surprise.
Aziz was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series and is the first actor of South Asian origin to be nominated for a lead role. The series was also nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series, while one of the first season’s most talked-about and lauded episodes, “Parents,” garnered nominations for Outstanding Directing and Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series. These nominations are on top of a nomination for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy Television Series at the Golden Globes and a Peabody Award, among other accolades.
We knew Master of None was important television. But an Emmy nomination validates the experiences Aziz shared in the series and of the show’s viability in the broader context of American television. Here’s a show by Asian Americans about Asian Americans that can hang with the industry’s most talented writers and most star-studded casts. We’re already been guaranteed a second season; any awards that the show can take home on September 18th will give the show more time and flexibility to be creatively ambitious.
Beyond recognizing the critical success of the show, these nominations also cement the status of a normalized South Asian American experience in mainstream pop culture. In being recognized for his leading role, Aziz, and by proxy Dev, have helped usher in a new age where South Asian American characters can be written as complex people and performed true-to-life.
In the way that many South Asian Americans compartmentalize their two identities, Aziz has largely kept his identity as a South Asian Muslim out of his comedy and acting. His writing and portrayal of Dev Shah is a little different. Some of the first season’s most poignant episodes (i.e., “Parents,” “Indians on TV”) deal directly with issues of being a first-generation American and a brown actor. But his character does not filter his experiences solely through this lens: he’s able to consider the pros and cons of parenthood without his parents breathing down his neck; Dev flames out of two different roles within the course of the first season and doesn’t worry about career alternatives.
The episodes where he’s able to blend the two perspectives are especially resonant, as he does in “Mornings,” where he deals head-on with a waning sex life (decidedly not-South Asian) just before having to explain to his long-term significant other why he hasn’t told his parents about their relationship (very South Asian). The complexity of his character matches the complexity that most South Asian Americans face.
The series’ popularity has shown that there is an appetite for non-white stories to be written and told, and who better to do this than non-white writers. Now we can hope and almost demand more people of color will write fully-formed parts for themselves and other actors of color based on their experience. The greater exposure will help elevate the work of other writers, comedians, and performers of color.
The nominations also completely dispels the notion that for shows to be critically successful, their main cast must be white. Here’s to a world where actors don’t have to fake stereotypical accents or make jokes about arranged marriage to garner cheap laughs. Thanks, Aziz.