March 05, 2018

Kumail Nanjiani hilariously reassures anyone fearing change in Hollywood.

  By Eric Pfeiffer

Kumail Nanjiani is an ambassador we need.

The 40-year-old actor, writer, and proud nerd has been making audiences laugh for years in shows like "Silicon Valley," and he's currently reaching a wider audience with his critically acclaimed film, "The Big Sick."

During a segment of the 90th Academy Awards, Nanjiani also offered a hilariously reassuring message to about why greater representation isn't just the right thing to do — it's good business.

"There's so many movies from different points of view that are making a ton of money," he said. "Don't do it because it's better for society and representation, even though it is. Do it because you'll get rich. You'll get that promotion, right?"

It's not about picking winners and losers. It's about representation and diversity.

There was a serious tone to much of this year's Oscars ceremony — and understandably so.

That's what made Nanjiani's comment so refreshing: He managed to address the need for greater diversity in pop culture by cleverly pointing out that films made by women and people of color — including "Black Panther," "Wonder Woman," and "Get Out" — have been huge hits over the past year.

Audiences, including the "straight white dudes" Nanjiani mentioned, are hungry for diverse stories and characters.

"Some of my favorite movies are by straight white dudes about straight white dudes," he said. "Now, straight white dudes can watch movies starring me and you relate to that. It's not that hard. I've done it my whole life."

There's nothing to fear about greater inclusion.

As with any social movement, there are those who continue to resist progress. Some critics are trying to tie the Oscars' declining audience to an increased focus on social issues, but that decline has been happening for years. In an increasingly fractured media landscape, events like the Oscars just aren't the monolithic symbols of culture they once were, even if they're still a big deal.

As Sarah Silverman said in her own segment of the video, "Some people, really, in their hearts they are threatened, or they are scared. And there's nothing to be scared of. It's just equality."

Nanjiani's not afraid to speak out about the stories and recognition that are sometimes overlooked.

Nanjiani, an immigrant from Pakistan, hasn't only had to grapple with his own identity in Hollywood. While critics lavished attention on him for his work in "The Big Sick", he often found himself forced to bring attention to his wife Emily V. Gordon, who co-wrote the film. During the montage, he jokingly brought up another of his wife's ideas:

"Emily, my wife, had this idea where she wanted to start a website called 'Muslims having fun,' which is just, like, Muslims eating ice cream and riding roller coasters and laughing and having fun. Because she gets to see that, and most of America doesn't."

Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani. Photo by Punk Toad/Flickr.

Audiences are speaking up with their wallets and it turns out they love diversity.

Moviegoers are backing up what Nanjiani had to say about the monetary gains of greater representation in Hollywood. "Black Panther" has been so successful that it's giving the latest "Star Wars" film a run for its money. "Wonder Woman" was so beloved by fans and critics alike it helped pump life back into a struggling DC Comics film franchise. Meanwhile, "Get Out" turned the thriller genre on its head, making a huge amount of money and winning an Oscar for Jordan Peele's original screenplay.

As Nanjiani so wisely explained, these aren't threats to anyone, including "straight white guys." They are exactly the kind of variety audiences crave when they go to the movies for a compelling plot and characters they connect with.

Sometimes doing the right thing also happens to be very good for business.