Race and Marketing in Show Business with Sendhil Ramamurthy

Not only is Sendhil Ramamurthy ridiculously gorgeous but he's insightful as well. Read what he had to say at a panel for The Asia Society this past June regarding Media, Marketing and the Desirable Demographic.

Stephanie Mehta: Sendhil, I’m going to follow up with you. Are Asian-Americans considered “Cinderellas” when it comes to entertainment as well? (this term was used by Saul Gitlin to describe Asian consumers. Wealthy, entrepreneurial, well-educated but not accepted as a valuable consumer by traditional marketers)

Sendhil: Yeah, I think so. To kick back to something Saul said a minute ago, talking about the Hispanic population and how they’re catered to marketing-wise. You know, I think that’s a huge thing certainly on television but very much so in studio films. I’m thinking of one example in particular because it involved me (laughs) and it was a big studio film and I won’t say what it is (laughs) and there were “warriors” that were going to be from all different parts of the world and one of the warriors was written as an Indian warrior and I guess the studio that I’m speaking about, they did research and for whatever reason, they actually ended up, after I’d gone in on this and auditioned, changing the character to Hispanic. Because the demographic, whatever research they did (and I don’t have access to what the research was) told them that it would be more profitable and reach a larger audience if they changed that character to a Hispanic character. And so, this is very much what Saul was getting at that it certainly permeates into my business as well.

Having said that, things have gotten a lot better. I mean, I don’t think you can turn on a television show and not see Asians on them in some way, shape or form. Saul and I were actually speaking about this in the green room earlier… is it that Asians play “certain” characters? They play “the doctor” or “the smart guy” and that’s still very much still the case and I don’t know what it takes to change that yet otherwise I’d be doing it but I think it’s a question of time and also a question of people realizing that, like Saul said, it’s a very affluent section of the community, Asians. And at some point, and hopefully, I say this in all the interviews that I do because I’m hoping it gets out there… at some point I think that studios and networks and producers and writers as well because listen, those characters have to be written as well, that we’ll see that because at the end of the day, it is a business. They call it “the business” for a reason and it’s about making money. And somebody will figure it out that Asians in particular have a lot of disposable income and spend some of that on entertainment and the ancillary products like action figures and whatever else is out there.

Audience Member: Thank you for coming here, particularly Sendhil because I’ll be telling my girlfriend later that you were present and she’ll be very angry at me and there will be lots of fun to be had. (laughs) This is a two part question for you. In your profession, what do you see are the major things holding back incoming Asian talent, whether there are cultural concerns or certain behavioral patterns they’re engaging in themselves and also conversely, of Asian talent that you see coming into your field, do you see any common factors driving them into the field?

Sendhil: I think certainly for the influx of Asian talent into television and film, it’s a question of writing. Because… there’s two parts actually. It’s a question of writing and then it’s also a question of the powers that be seeing or auditioning different ethnicities for a part that may not be written as such.

Now listen, if you’re looking for a Nazi soldier, I’m not expecting to go into the room and audition for the part but if it’s, you know, Joe Schmo the lawyer on Law & Order or whatever it happens to be, then there’s no reason why, you know, I couldn’t go in and audition or you or … that’s something that has to change and it is changing. It’s slow but it is changing. And then the other thing is writing. Characters need to be written that are not culturally specific but just interesting characters that Asians and Hispanics and African Americans can go in on and be considered for and I think that something that’s changing at a quicker pace actually than executives letting people even be considered for the parts.

VERY curious what movie this could have been from. Do you agree? Are Asians only playing specific roles to satisfy stereotypes? Find the rest of Sendhil's panel here: http://www.sendhilramamurthy.net/news/?p=118