I saw the film ‘Yesterday‘ on its opening weekend and enjoyed the film. What struck me though was when I saw the trailer, that the film had an Indian male lead with a white female counterpart who had unrequited love for that male lead – and had come across this article with this commentary:
““The industry is starting to listen and go, ‘Oh. we can’t just put South Asian guys as doctors or cab drivers or terrorists anymore. People aren’t going to settle for that. We need to start offering these three-dimensional roles that have been traditionally reserved for straight white guys.’” Patel said.
Patel considers his role in “Yesterday”, which wasn’t written with a specific race in mind, an example of this change. He first auditioned in New York a couple years ago, where he was asked to read a monologue and perform a Coldplay song of his choice. (Screenwriter Richard Curtis has said the band’s lead singer, Chris Martin, was originally in mind to play Jack’s mentor before Sheeran was cast.)
As “Yesterday” nears its release, Patel looks back on its press tour. The film didn’t intend to make a statement about race, and the character’s ethnicity isn’t mentioned once. Still, Patel understands the importance his role has for the South Asian community. “We didn’t try to do that. It wasn’t like, ‘We’re going to get an Indian guy to play this role,’” Patel said. “I’m just glad that I happen to be the right guy to play the role and that I happen to be of this background.””
When I watched the trailer, as well as the film, I was really struck at how Patel played an ordinary Brit, with really now direct reference to his race, which I thought was pretty remarkable.
This also reminded me later as to when earlier this year, I binged watched the entire series to date of NBC’s hit show ‘The Good Place,’ where in Seaon 3’s finale, there’s a montage of where Eleanor (Kristen Bell) and Chidi (William Jackson Harper) receive a touching present from Michael (Ted Danson) capturing their relationship over time and race never really being explicitly being an issue ever.
After watching a film like ‘Yesterday,’ it’s kind of encouraging to see race blind casting materializing, and Director Danny Boyle’s choice for casting Patel:
“Boyle said all that mattered was Patel’s talent. “It’s just quality,” he said, adding, “I wouldn’t have cast him if I’d found somebody better. It’s a terrible thing to say, but, you know, it’s true. He was the best. It’s a triumph of talent, really, over other systems of stardom.””
Pretty bold if you ask me to cast an unknown actor to begin with, let alone an unknown South East Asian.