Yesterday, I auditioned for the role of Nadia Naseem, a driven FBI Agent whose beauty can only be described as “exotic.” The casting agents said I was perfect for the character, but I don’t understand why because my beauty is not exotic, cause I’m actually from Pittsburgh?
I’m an Indian woman who’s been acting for seven years, which means I’ve played everything from “exotic” scientist to “exotic” analyst to “exotic” friend of terror suspect. But you really shouldn’t call me an exotic beauty as I’m someone who uses the word “yinz” in regular conversation because I’m from a particular part of Western Pennsylvania.
Considering I’m from the city where the phrase blue-collar worker was practically invented, I really can’t consider myself exotic at all.
So why exactly is every single Indian actor considered “exotic?” no matter where they actually come from? Is it the dark hair? The brown complexion? The idea that all of us are fresh from the jungles of India where we fight tigers, anacondas, and Thugee Cult Members from Temple Of Doom? The only fight I’ve ever been in was with a bunch of Eagles fans outside of Heinz Field who’d had a few too many arns and were insulting my Stillers while chucking Tasty Cakes at strangers.
My extended family may make up a third of Pittsburgh’s Indian population, but at this point we follow the Pittsburgh Penguins’ hockey season more closely than we do the Hindu holidays. Our favorite meal is a pork roll with peppers n’at.
So just a reminder, I am not an “exotic beauty.” I’m not even a Bollywood star like Priyanka Chopra. Type-wise I’m a lot more like Gillian Jacobs — Pittsburgh native and star of hit shows Love and Community. Jacobs doesn’t have to worry about being labeled “exotic” at all. She gets the privilege of Hollywood adjectives like “hot blonde”, “quirky blonde,” or “blonde.” It would honestly be a step up at this point if you would call me a “hot quirky brown person” so if someone would give that a try I’d appreciate it.
Until we do away with this stupid “exotic” label, I’m no longer taking roles where I have to play the sexy scientist from New Delhi or the CIA analyst who happens to speak Arabic. No more roles describing me as an “exotic beauty” at all.
After my Blue Bloods scene, the casting director asked me to read my lines again but this time “even more exotically.” Instead, I ripped up the sides, and shouted to everyone in the room, “Yinz can go fuck yourselves.