Ashton Kutcher has made his career playing the himbo, that archetype of the cute but dumb guy who makes people laugh at his wacky foibles on shows like "That '70s Show" and "Two and Half Men" as well as countless rom-coms. He also managed to create a career for himself by being an early adopter on Twitter and producing goofy shows like "Punk'd." Oh, and marrying Demi Moore (at least until that union fell apart last year). For the most part, the guy's been relatively inoffensive.
Until last week, when snack food maker Popchips unveiled a new ad featuring Kutcher in brownface, doing a horrendous Indian accent and attempting to be funny (only a small clip is on YouTube right now):
There was an immediate outcry once the ad was released online, and the ad was quickly pulled and apologies issued amid charges of racism. Here's a particularly sharp rebuttal to the ad from Indian-American comic Hasan Minhaj:
I appreciate his points, but I don't necessarily feel that there needs to be a ban on Indian impressions by non-Indian performers. My problem with the Popchips ad is, as Minhaj points out, the thing's just not funny. Kutcher's just not a talented impressionist and the things he's saying make no sense. I watched the whole ad when it first came out and was just amazed at the sheer awfulness of it. Did somebody actually think it was funny, or did they just not want to offend Kutcher, who no doubt thought it was HI-LARIOUS?
What Kutcher and Popchips failed to realize is that there's a whole generation of Indian-Americans like myself and Minhaj and Anil Dash and the dudes in Das Racist who don't speak in thick accents and don't put up with stupid shit like this.
There are plenty of stereotypical Indians on TV already, played by actual Indians: the dolts in the Metro PCS ads (who I find much more offensive than this, actually, because they should know better), the guy on "Big Bang Theory," the limo driver who pops up on "How I Met Your Mother" every so often, or guys playing doctors, taxi drivers or convenience store owners. At least Kal Penn moved beyond those types of roles to play a stoner in the "Harold and Kumar" movies, even if it's turned my surname into something of a punch line:
Another famous (although maybe not as much anymore) white guy in brownface portrayal of an Indian was by the legendary English comic actor Peter Sellers in "The Party." Although he, unlike Kutcher, is actually funny:
Less successful at pulling off the brownface thing, IMHO, was Fisher Stevens in the much-beloved '80s robot flick "Short Circuit":
But probably the most famous Indian impression is done by Hank Azaria as Apu on "The Simpsons." And yeah, it's pretty stereotypical, but for the most part, I find it to be pretty damn funny. Although if you call me Apu, you can count on getting a smack upside your head (or the verbal equivalent):
(NOTE: It was brought to my attention that I failed to mention Mike Myers' Love Guru movie. I think it's best for all involved if we just forget that ever happened.)
So is Ashton Kutcher a racist? I don't think so. Is he an unfunny dumbass? Definitely. Case closed. Thank you, please come again.