It’s been a big year for Asian Americans in the media, and for South Asians in particular. Where South Asian roles on TV and in the movies were once reserved for seen-it-all-before stereotypes (IT guy, gas station attendant, doctor), 2015 has given us more complex and interesting roles for Desis than ever before. We still have a long way to go before we can claim true diversity in the media, but with each new brown face on our screens challenging the status quo, it’s a disruption to the dominant narrative of what it means to be American and whose story is worthy of being told.
South Asians also made significant contributions this year in activism, literature, and sports all over the world! In 2015, we fought for women’s health, rallied for educational equality and environmental justice, broke records and received high honors for our artistic contributions.
Sakhi invites you to celebrate the growing visibility of South Asians in the media by highlighting some of the most exciting Desi moments of the past year! Cheers to many more to come.
1. Aziz Ansari Blows Minds, Wins Hearts with Master of None
Many of us have loved Aziz since his early stand up days, but 2015 was truly the comedian’s year. After releasing his stand up special and first book, Modern Romance, an exploration of contemporary dating culture to glowing reviews, Ansari’s show “Master of None” debuted on Netflix in November to near universal acclaim. Ansari and his team were praised for their diverse casting, their nuanced and personal take on race and racism (especially in the “Indians on TV” episode), and the care with which they addressed contemporary issues of feminism and gender relations. Ansari even invited his own parents to guest star, making Shoukath Ansari nothing if not the biggest breakout star of 2015. All this, and we never stopped laughing!
2. Mindy Kaling’s Fans Rallied for Show’s 4th Season
We at Sakhi have long loved Mindy for her unapologetic self-love, quality humor and writing skills, and her penchant for cheery colors and perfect feminine accessories. When the news leaked this fall that “The Mindy Project” would not be moving forward on Fox, fans were devastated. In swooped Hulu, the streaming service where the show had had a longtime devoted audience. “Mindy” was picked up for a fourth and supersized season of 26 episodes — and fans rejoiced! This season has seen Dr. Lahiri navigate motherhood and juggle her new life all with that classic Mindy attitude and humor we love. Additionally, Mindy’s second book, Why Not Me, became a NYT bestseller this year.
3. Malala Yousafzai’s Story Captured by Oscar-Winning Director
Pakistani teen activist Malala Yousafzai, well-known as a champion for education and gender equality and as the youngest Nobel Peace laureate, became the subject this year of the inspiring documentary He Named Me Malala. The film, which examines the advocate’s personal life and the larger context of her political activism, was directed by Davis Guggenheim, the Oscar-winning director of An Inconvenient Truth. Reviews praised the documentary for the uplifting portrayal of its unique and awe-inspiring heroine.
4. Satnam Singh Became 1st Indian-Born Person Drafted in NBA
19-year old Punjabi basketball player Satnam Singh, who stands at a staggering 7 feet 2 inches, made headlines this year when he became the first player born on the subcontinent to be drafted into the NBA. Singh had been training to get to this level since 15, when he began at IMG Basketball Academy, the Florida-based training institute. Singh represented India on the national team and is the first player in a decade to be drafted without college or professional experience Though it’s too early to know how Singh will develop, he was selected to play for the Dallas Mavericks and his future as a basketball superstar looks bright.
5. Activist Kiran Gandhi Rose Awareness by Free-Bleeding During a Marathon
26-year old MBA student at Harvard Business School Kiran Gandhi made headlines this year when she ran the London Marathon without a tampon, free-bleeding to raise awareness for women who have no access to feminine products. The activist and drummer (who has played on the road with another badass South Asian lady, M.I.A.), felt empowered fighting period stigma and wants to encourage other women to not be embarrassed about their periods.
6. Priyanka Chopra Headlines Hit ABC Network Drama
Former Miss World and longtime Bollywood superstar Priyanka Chopra became the first South Asian woman to get top billing in an American network drama in 2015. ABC’s Quantico has received positive reviews and Chopra’s performance as fearless FBI recruit Alex Parrish is praised for being fresh and complex. The 33-year-old, who was born in India and lived in the US as a teenager, has used her platform to discuss the importance of diversity on the small screen, overcoming bullying and sexism, and what it’s like to play a modern Indian girl on TV.
7. Sofia Ashraf Calls Out Unilever, Fights for Environmental Justice in Nicki Minaj-Inspired Rap
Indian rapper Sofia Ashraf made waves this year when she released “Kodaikanal Won’t”, a protest song and video inspired by Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda”. The track details a story of corporate pollution by Unilever, a consumer-products company, in Tamil Nadu. More than 1,000 workers in the area are alleged to have suffered mercury poisoning, which can cause a host of long-lasting skin and health problems. The video was viewed over 2 million times on Youtube and prompted a personal response from the CEO of Unilever.
8. Sundar Pichai Named CEO of Google
This year, India-born Stanford and Wharton alum Sundar Pichai was named the new CEO of Google after a meteoric rise in the company. Pichai is well-known for introducing the world to Chrome, Google’s web browser (and our browser of choice!), to acclaim. According to many profiles and news reports, Pichai is a known team player, well-liked, and a leader who can handle tough negotiations.
9. Jhumpa Lahiri Received National Humanities Medal from President Obama
This September, Bengali American author and Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Obama. Lahiri, whose novels and short stories (which include The Lowland and Interpreter of Maladies) have received universal critical acclaim and focus on the immigrant experience, received the award for “enlarging the human story” and her “beautifully wrought narratives of estrangement and belonging”. The President notably described the ceremony as his favorite White House event, and said that the recipients were being honored for their ability to express rare and important truths.
10. New Rihanna BFF Sanam Is a Badass Brown Girl
When Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money” video blew up this past July, so did the life of one of its stars, Sanam. The 25-year-old then-Seattle resident, who had no experience in acting, recieved a notification three months prior on her Instagram feed that none other than Queen RiRi had started following her. Days later, the pop superstar sent Sanam a message inviting her to collaborate on a special project — she’d been wowed by Sanam’s selfies and unyielding confidence. These days, Sanam is a well-known Internet star, and uses her platform to talk brown girl beauty, cultural appropriation, social justice, and the importance of self-love and care.