Representation in film and television has come a long, long way in the last decade, but it wasn’t too long ago that diverse actors were only cast as ‘the villain’ or ‘the butt of the joke’.

Reminding us all what so-called diversity looked like in the recent past, Kal Penn – whose parents immigrated to America from India before he was born – has tweeted a series of old scripts to show just what kind of roles he was offered in the early days of his career.

It’s not great reading. Penn found cult fame in the ‘Harold and Kumar‘ series opposite Star Trek‘s John Cho, playing on the Indian-American stereotypes by creating a character that was resisting all of them (and, obviously, getting high as fuck). These days, he appears as speech writer Seth Wright in Netflix‘s other political drama ‘Designated Survivor‘.

But a few years ago, it was all “humorous” gags over “unpronounceable” Indian names, stereotypes of a sweaty nerd, and characters who speak in language that’s “peppered with Indian cultural references” (the scripts’ words, not Penn’s).

At one point, he notes that the producers of one-unnamed script wanted him to “make the accent a little more AUTHENTIC”, which he says “usually meant they wanted Apu, a.k.a. Springfield‘s resident Kwik-E-Mart operator.

He blasts another show for declining to give his character an official name in the script, but later making a gag about it.

He calls out ‘Sabrina the Teenage Witch‘ and ‘Kings of Queens‘ for being racially insensitive, but did point out that shows like ‘The Steve Harvey Morning Show‘, ‘Buffy‘, ‘Angel‘ and ‘24‘ had “really smart, creative people who didn’t have to use external things to mask subpar writing.”

He also praises ‘House‘ creator David Shore (Penn played Dr. Lawrence Kutner in the show for six seasons) for casting “largely colour and gender blind”, pointing out that the ratings certainly didn’t suffer for it.

But yeah. He’s had some absolute shockers in 16-year career.


Photo: Designated Survivor.