‘I Want to Play More Bad Guys’: Kumail Nanjiani Thinks Progressive Casting Has Killed the Non-White Villain
Kumail Nanjiani wants Hollywood to let brown guys be bad guys again.
After the finale of Nanjiani’s well-received Disney+ series Welcome to Chippendales, the stand-up star turned Marvel hero has had time to reflect on what he considers to be a rare opportunity – a chance for a person of color to play a sleazeball. In an interview with Esquire UK, Nanjiani called his role as Somen “Steve” Banerjee, the real-life proprietor of the all-male strip show and perpetrator of multiple murder plots, “By far the most layered, complex, complicated person I’ve ever played.” Nanjiani thinks that the film industry’s recent push for inclusive casting has a fatal flaw – actors of color aren’t allowed to play corrupt characters and flex their malevolent muscles anymore because studios are afraid of the messaging that a movie will send if a brown person embodies evil onscreen.
Nanjiani believes that Hollywood needs to bring back the non-white villain. And no, Thanos, purple doesn’t count.
“I think that Hollywood now – even though they’re trying to be more diverse – is still weird,” Nanjiani told Esquire. Though he believes that there were good intentions behind the push to portray people of color in heroic roles, film studios' insistence on only portraying people of color as morally uncomplicated has homogenized the antagonist as an angry white guy – “And that’s just as limiting as anything else,” says Nanjiani. “I want to play more bad guys.”
Nanjiani compared his recent career to that of another Marvel mainstay, Sebastian Stan, who followed up his role as the reformed hero, The Winter Soldier, with a performance as a serial killer cannibal in the 2022 horror film Fresh. Nanjiani said, “He does these big Marvel movies, and then he’ll play a psychopath. I was told that’s going to be hard because people don’t want to cast non-white people as bad guys.”
It’s strange to see the tides turn so quickly in Hollywood to the point where a Pakistan-born, Muslim-raised actor has such a hard time booking a film role that doesn’t paint him as a proud, righteous goody-goody – it wasn’t long ago that actors who looked like Nanjiani couldn’t get cast as anything besides “Terrorist #5” in whatever crappy action movie the American military funded that week. Perhaps, at some point, Hollywood will learn that all actors should have a shot at playing all roles, and the fear of some invisible “woke mob” isn’t a good reason to racially segregate good guys and bad guys.
Or maybe they'll just swing back in the other direction and make every villain a racist cartoon character like in True Lies.