Aziz Ansari makes history at Golden Globes, other Indian-Americans feature at the 2018 awards

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Aziz Ansari and Lena Waite accept the 2017 Emmy award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for “Master of None.” REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Actor, director, author and comedian Aziz Ansari, made history Jan. 7, at the Golden Globes for his performance in the TV series, Master of None, a Netflix comedy original, he co-wrote with Alan Yang.

Ansari becomes the first Indian-American, first South Asian-American, and first Asian male actor to win “Best performance by an Actor in a TV series — Musical or Comedy” and he beat out some heavyweights in Anthony Anderson of “Black-ish,” Kevin Bacon, “I Love Dick,” William H. Macy from “Shameless” and Eric McCormack, “Will and Grace”.

It was his second nomination in the category and as he said on the stage, “I’m really glad we won this cause it would really suck if I lost twice in a row – it would have been a really shitty moment for me.”

It was clear Ansari did not expect to win, even in his own frank admission.

“I seriously didn’t think I would win because all the websites said I would lose,” Ansari said in his short address on stage. He thanked fellow actors and those involved in the making of two seasons of this series that focus on the cultures and life of millennials as they search for real love and purpose, learn about their parents’ sacrifices, and roam the world to take on new challenges.

In his acceptance speech, Ansari specifically identified his co-author Yang, Eric Westerheim, and his brother Aniz Adam Ansari for being beside him always. And he thanked Italy, “for all the amazing food we ate in Season 2.”

Ansari concluded his speech with “And I want to thank my parents for giving me so much love.” His mother Fatima and father Shoukath have played real life roles in his series where Ansari plays Dev Shah, a 30-year old actor in New York. The series moves from the personal to the political, featuring his parents and friends, and in Season 2, his desire to go to Italy to learn how to make pasta, a love story that turns from a friendship into an intense love relationship.

Various segments in the series deal with serious issues of immigrant lives and cultures, growing up in America, women’s rights, equality, LGBTQ rights, and racism in the film industry.

Predictably, Twitter got busy with tributes for the win, including from Indian-American actor Kal Penn; sociologist and author of Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism, who tweeted, “Aziz Ansari won Best Actor in a Comedy! I was in shock and I think he wasn’t expecting it either. Not because he didn’t deserve it (he absolutely did) but, cuz racism. #GoldenGlobes”; Professor Kevin Nadal of John Jay College in Manhattan, tweeted, “Congrats @azizansari! 1st South Asian American to win Best Actor for #GoldenGlobes Comedy! #SouthAsianExcellence #BrownAsians #BrownAsiansExist

Others at the Globes

From the woman in charge of the Golden Globes ceremony, to a special invitee at the glittering event, Indian-Americans featured in the second most-watched show after the Oscars.

Mumbai-born Meher Tatna, president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, gave a speech in the first hour of the awards ceremony, speaking about the mission of the organization. She also announced to $1 million grants to journalists organization, International Consortium of Investigative Journalism, and the Committee to Protect Journalists. Tatna, a reporter for the Singapore daily, The New Paper, was elected president last June.

In a way, Tatna is the perfect person to run the show, Vanity Fair said in a Jan. 5 article, at a time when Hollywood is under fire on the treatment of women. A graduate in economics from Brandeis University, Tatna appeared in a soap opera an did voices on The Simpsons. She has suffered butt-pinches as a waitress, offensive casting calls as an actress, and uncertain economics as a print reporter, Vanity Fair said. All the actresses at the event wore black and almost everyone wore a broach on the lapel that read #TimesUp, an initiative by Hollywood stars to support to workers in other industries who are victims of sexual harassment.

In a sea of black dresses, Tatna’s bright clothes stood out. She explained why to Entertainment Tonight. “My mom and I planned this together a couple of months ago, it is a cultural thing. When you have a celebration, you don’t wear black. So she would be appalled if I were to [have] worn black. And so this is, for my mom,” Tatna is quoted saying by ET Online.

Saru Jayaraman, whose story has been chronicled in the book The Accidental American, was a special invitee, introduced to the audience by the host of the show Seth Meyers, who noted that she was part of the #TimesUp initiative. Jayaraman was one of 8 labor organizers, joining prominent actresses who launched the #TIMESUP to support survivors of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault in all industries through a legal defense fund. Jayaraman who attended the event with actress Amy Poelher, is the co-founder and co-director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United) and director of the Food Labor Research Center at University of California, Berkeley.

“Last night was electric. It was about much more than a dress code – it was a genuine, very moving act of solidarity, reaching out beyond Hollywood – it was about women coming together to say enough is enough, time’s up,” Jayaraman told this correspondent via email.

“I was excited to stand with Amy Poehler because she worked as a server for many years and experienced many of the things that we talk about in terms of women in the restaurant industry,” Jayaraman added. “This act of solidarity was not just about going to the Golden Globes in a black dress, but standing together for concrete policy change – getting rid of the $2 wage that in many states means you’ve got a 70% female workforce living entirely on tips,” Jayaraman emphasized in her note.

Poehler walked the red carpet with Jayaraman, telling Elle magazine, “Saru is my date tonight,” and adding, “But really, she’s my partner in a much bigger movement. Not a lot of people go to the Golden Globes, but everyone has either worked in or eaten in a restaurant, and she’s working specifically on legislation to help reduce the amount of harassment,” Poehler added in her comments to Elle.

On her organization ROCUnited.org website, Jayaraman said in a statement, “I am here tonight in honor of the women servers, bussers, bartenders, runners, cooks, and hosts who experience the highest rates of sexual harassment of any industry in the country. Tipped workers in our industry earn a federal minimum wage of just $2.13 an hour from their employers, and must tolerate extreme harassment from customers in order to earn enough in tips to feed their families. Managers encourage these women to subject themselves to objectification in order to make more money in tips, and this makes them vulnerable to co-worker and manager harassment as well.”

After 9/11, Jayaraman helped organized displaced World Trade Center workers, to establish ROC, which now has more than 18,000 worker members, 200 employer partners, and several thousand consumer members in a dozen states nationwide. A graduate of Yale Law School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Jayaraman wrote a seminal book in 2013, Behind the Kitchen Door, documenting the lives of restaurant workers and fast-food chain workers. Her most recent book out in 2016 is Forked: A New Standard for American Dining.

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