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6 South Asian Creators Whose Voices Are Changing Mainstream Media

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You’ve heard of Mindy Kaling, Hasan Minhaj, Lilly Singh, and recently Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, but who else have you heard of? There are not many South Asian creatives and influencers who have been able to reach mainstream Western media.

Often within South Asian communities, there is a significant emphasis on finding a stable 9 to 5 job. This is common in Asian countries; due to large population sizes, there is always competition for positions. Fields such as medicine, engineering, and law are valued for their stability. The idea is that even if you are mediocre in these fields, you will receive a decent salary.

This concept, paired with the fact that Asians make up less than one percent of the entertainment and art industry, has resulted in a limited number of South Asian creators in Western media. However, there are still South Asian origin creators who are making significant strides and changes within the community.

Here is a list of South Asian creators and influencers, each in different types of creative fields, who are breaking the barriers of Western mainstream media and pushing societal norms through their work.

1. Raveena

Raveena is a singer-songwriter whose songs mesmerize listeners with their warbling synths, soft piano, delicate harps, and hypnotic, honey-like vocals. Influenced by the Sikh practices and North Indian parents that she grew up with, Raveena’s music marries the experience of the South Asian diaspora with contemporary R&B and soul.

Raveena has released several EPs and a long album, each portraying a different aspect of her life. The title track of her first EP, If Only, discusses a broken, toxic relationship, but pairs it with a magical, whimsical sound.

Lucid, her 2019 debut album, tells the story of her healing process after an abusive relationship, as well as the intergenerational trauma experienced while growing up as a child of Indian immigrant parents, all while incorporating themes of sexual liberation and spiritual self-healing.

“It can definitely be challenging being a South Asian artist and not having a lot to go off of in Western music culture,” Raveena described in an interview with the website, them. “It’s easy to feel super displaced and confused, like ‘Where do I fit into all this?’ But that’s also the most exciting part about it; there isn’t a framework, so you can invent your own.”

Raveena is heavily involved not only in the music production aspect of her work, but also in her video production. In the music video for her song “Temptations,” Raveena created a dream-like garden sequence, a style often used in Bollywood, to come out to her family and friends as bisexual.  

“Growing up, South Asian culture and queer culture felt like oil and water. Something that just simply couldn’t mix,” Raveena said via Instagram when the video dropped.

“I’m pretty sure I liked girls before I liked boys, but it took me until this year, in my 20s, to be able to verbalize and know in my heart that this is one of my truths. I hope that for lil brown girls in the future, their queerness will feel nothing short of completely, 100% mundane and normal,” Raveena said.

2. Alok Vaid-Menon

Alok (they/them) is an Indian-American gender nonconforming writer and performer. Alok is known for challenging the gender binary through fashion, performance, poetry, and prose. Alok’s mission is to create a new beauty paradigm based on self-acceptance and self-actualization rather than conformity.

According to their official website, Alok is “the author of Femme in Public (2017) and Beyond the Gender Binary (2020). In 2019, they were honored as one of NBC’s Pride 50 and Out Magazine’s OUT 100.” In an interview with CNN, Alok discussed the challenges they have faced in their quest to create a new beauty paradigm.

They described how a stranger told them they would be more “convincing” if they shaved their beard. Alok described this experience as realizing the “danger” of beauty.

“Marginalized people learn from an early age that beauty is often about power,” Alok stated. “We see the fair, thin, and gender-conforming among us called ‘beautiful,’ while the rest of us are meant to spend our entire lives aspiring to be like them.”

Alok also has a large presence on Instagram, where they advocate for the recognition of Black, Indigenous, and people of color(BIPOC) non-binary individuals. One of their most bold and groundbreaking posts addresses the concept of “white feminism,” a form of feminism that focuses solely on the struggles of straight, cis-gendered white women. It does not include BIPOC women and LGBTQIA+ women.

The post depicts an image of Alok wearing a dress, surrounded by hate comments including “You don’t need feminism to wear that ridiculous outfit” and “Feminism is about women, Alok. Make up your own movement.” Alok took to their caption to further discuss the severity and detrimental effects of these comments.

“Womanhood is far more expansive than reproductive function. There are plenty of men and non-binary people who can give birth and plenty of women who cannot,” said Alok.

“But this has never been about facts or even cognition. This has always been about a deep, ingrained hatred and distrust for us. In order for patriarchy to work, we must be demeaned and disappeared.”

3. Maria Qamar 

Maria Qamar is a Pakistani-Canadian artist best known for her South Asian art, which she posts on her Instagram, @hatecopy. “Hatecopy” is a name that Qamar coined during her college years out of distaste for copy-writing, the career she was forced to pursue instead of the arts.

Her art gives her 196K followers a peek into the trials of the young South Asian woman’s 21st-century experience. Her comic-like desi pop art displays humorous, relatable situations for those who have grown up in Western countries. Qamar’s artwork encourages female empowerment through witty Hinglish responses to taboo topics within the desi community.

Not only has Qamar’s art been hugely successful on social media, but it has also been successful in the physical world. Qamar has decorated the sets of The Mindy Project, painted a large mural on New York City’s Bombay Bread, and even graced the cover of Elle Canada.

Qamar’s most notable work, however, was her exhibition titled “Fraaaandship!” in Richard Taittinger Gallery in New York City. The term “fraaaandship” is a euphemism of sex used by many South Asian men towards women. Qamar’s artwork counters the patriarchal undertones of this phrase by depicting strong, freethinking, sex-positive South Asian women.

While her work may portray Bollywood-esque beauties, Qamar also aims to direct her work towards other women of color.

“These are specifically the things that I have gone through that have been obstacles in my life,” Qamar stated in an interview with Art News.

“But don’t we all get bullied or picked on for being different? We’re not that different—we’re fighting for basic human rights for women and women of color.”

4. Deepica Mutyala 

Deepica Mutyala is a South Indian American beauty YouTuber and social media influencer. Mutyala is best known for a viral video that took the beauty world by storm when she used red lipstick as a color corrector to cover dark undereye circles. Dark circles and hyper-pigmentation are skin conditions that South Asians and other BIPOC face.

Since that viral video, which now has over 10 million views, the 31-year-old beauty influencer has worked with The Today Show, collaborated with several makeup brands as an influencer, and starred in commercials for Samsung and L’Oreal.

Last year, Mutyala launched the Huestick, a product inspired by the Instagram community she built called “Live Tinted.” The Huestick is the first of its kind; it is a color corrector and multi-stick product. It can be used as a lipstick, eye-shadow, blush, or color corrector that can be dabbed on dark circles, hyperpigmentation, and dark spots.

In an interview with Forbes, Mutyala described how she built a “community first” product. She mentioned how it all began with her asking for product recommendations for dark circles. Mutayla even went a step beyond simply digital engagement and had members of the Live Tinted community try the products.

“We want to continue to ethically and responsibly reach the heights of financial success so that we can feed this process of social listening, product development, and continuous improvement,” Mutyala said.

“Above all, we want to disrupt the beauty industry and normalize diversity and representation.”

5. Sandhya Menon 

Sandhya Menon is a New York Times bestselling young adult fiction and romance author whose novels tell wholesome, heartwarming, romantic tales of Indian-American teenagers. Menon’s books contain stories of growing up in the South Asian culture that do not succumb to the stereotypes of an oppressed and depressed Brown community.

Each of Menon’s characters represents a diverse range of the Brown experience. However, what is unique about her characters is that being Indian is not the driving factor of their stories.

Her debut novel, When Dimple Met Rishi, is a love story between two college freshmen: Dimple, who is driven to prove herself as a coder, and Rishi, who is afraid to take the leap to pursue his passion as a comic artist.

From Twinkle, With Love is an epistolary novel about a 16-year-old who wants to be a filmmaker but is afraid that there is no room for her voice.

There’s Something About Sweetie tells the story of Sweetie, a confident, plus-size track star, and Ashish, a heartbroken basketball player, and how the two hide their relationship from Sweetie’s fat-shaming but well-meaning mother.

“I really just wanted to tell more fluffy, rom-com stories about all different kinds of people,” Menon said in an interview with YouTube channel xreadingsolacex.

“I feel like we don’t have enough of that, especially with marginalized communities, and so I just wanted to tell a story that wasn’t an issue book. And those are so important, but I wanted to tell a different kind of story.”

6. Hari Kondabolu

In Hari Kondabolu’s Twitter bio, he describes himself as a “Comic from Queens living in Brooklyn.” The 37-year-old stand-up comedian uses his platform to tell jokes about the racism and the divide that American politics has created among his people.

However, he is best known for the documentary The Problem with Apu. Apu Nahasapeemapetilon is a character on the Simpsons that is meant to be a caricature of the South Asian immigrant community in the United States. It is meant to represent the “white man’s perception of Indian immigrants.”

In the documentary, Kondabolu talks about how the stereotypes Apu perpetuated hung over the heads of many South Asian Americans in his generation. Kondabolu does not argue for the removal of Apu, but rather for a discussion as to how stereotypes in the media can be harmful.

In an interview on Emily Todd VanDerWerff’s podcast I Think You’re Interesting, Kondabolu said, “I feel like the story isn’t ‘What do we do with this Apu character?’ The point of the whole story was really to do what Whoopi Goldberg did. She’s not saying ‘go and destroy all the blackface artifacts from the past.’ She’s saying ‘let’s talk about it and put it up out front. Let’s recontextualize these things and put it in front of you and talk about them.’ This was my ‘Minstrel Black Americana’ collection. She calls it her ‘Negrobilia.’ This is what it was for me.”

Kondabolu received severe backlash from many people for his work. He often received death threats and hate mail for “bad-mouthing the Simpsons.” The Simpsons even alluded to the documentary in the episode in one of their own episodes.

“Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?” said Simpson character Lisa after glancing at a frame of Apu, with the phrase “Don’t have a cow!” written on the photo.

While this might not have been the response many South Asians wanted, this scene proved that Kondabolu’s message had been heard by the creators.

“In The Problem with Apu, I used Apu & The Simpsons as an entry point into a larger conversation about the representation of marginalized groups and why this is important,” the comedian tweeted in response to the episode. “The Simpsons response tonight is not a jab at me, but at what many of us consider progress.”

Since then, Kondabolu has released his Netflix comedy special Warn Your Relatives, and he continues to address issues such as homophobia, racism, and sexism with his work.

These are only a few of the brilliant South Asian creators who are paving their paths into Western media. There are plenty of other fantastic South Asian creators who are making their marks and initiating changes in their own ways.

As the South Asian diaspora continues to grow, it is becoming even more pivotal for the community to share their experiences and their work. It is our time to shine and show the world the change that we are capable of creating.

Spotlight

Meet Scott Hughes: The Entrepreneur Who Built One of the Largest Online Book Communities

Are you a book junkie? Find out how Scott Hughes built OnlineBookClub, a free online community for book lovers with over 2 million members.

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Scott Hughes

Are you a book lover?

If you are, then you need to check out OnlineBookClub.org, a free online site for book lovers around the world.

The online site features book reviews, book & reading forums, and useful tools that enable you to store, track and list books you have read or want to read.

Scott was only 19 when he launched OnlineBookClub.

The idea of creating OnlineBookClub originated after Scott, a book fanatic, realized that there were too many restrictions for in-person book clubs such as tight deadlines on book reading, a limited selection of books, and little freedom to pick books to read. 

Scott wanted to leverage the power of online discussions and create a flexible space where people all over the world could easily find people to chat about any book at any time. That is how OnlineBookClub came to life. 

Building the online platform was a rewarding experience for Scott, but it was far from easy.

For 7 years, Scott ran the business and paid himself nothing from it. During those years, he worked odd jobs to pay his living expenses and put food on the table for his two kids. 

“I remember one month I had to go to the coinstar machine at the bank with my spare change on the 10th of month just so I could cover the rent, but I did it.”

The hardest part of creating the platform for Scott was finding time to run the business while juggling his day job and raising two kids. It was difficult for him to find a work-life balance but he made it work despite the hardships. 

At the end of 2014, Scott finally took a leap of faith, gave up his side jobs, and went full-time at OnlineBookClub. He knew that to make it work, he had to devote himself completely to the online site.

And his efforts paid off. 

The platform is thriving with over 2.7 million registered users as of November of 2021.

Scott’s team recently released an e-reading app meant to compete with Amazon Kindle, called OBC Reader, which is available on both the Google Play Store and the Apple Store.

The revenue of the platform primarily comes from paid online advertising and professional services to authors and publishers, such as editorial reviews and manuscript editing.

Scott is proud of the work he has accomplished so far, especially of the community he has built.

“OnlineBookClub has always been filled with kind people who have a strong sense of togetherness and community. It’s like a second family for us.” 

Scott’s journey has been full of ups and downs, but through it all, he is grateful for all the experiences-good ones and bad ones.  

When asked to advise young entrepreneurs just starting, he has the following to say:

“The journey never really ends. If you make a million dollars, then you might chase a billion. Even if you reach all your financial goals and lose interest in that side of things, your mind will create new different goals. So it’s never about reaching some destination. When you look back on it, in many ways the most challenging times are also seen most fondly.”

He also believes that entrepreneurs need to be driven by something other than money. 

“I’ve found in my anecdotal experience and just from watching the world around me that those who desperately chase money are the least likely to find it. In contrast, when you work hard on yourself and your real dreams, money chases you. Money–and even health and physical fitness–are only really ever a means, not an end in themselves. Without some kind of vision or passion to be the real end, the real goal, the real dream, it’s like driving a car with no gas.”

Scott’s story is a great reminder that anything can be achieved with perseverance, passion, and hard work.

So, if you are just starting, make sure to stay tuned for his upcoming book, “In It Together: The Beautiful Struggle Uniting Us All,” which will be released soon.

You can connect with Scott on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter for more information about OnlineBookClub and get updates about his latest projects. 

 

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‘Halloween Kills’ Cast & Crew Explain the Slasher

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(from left) Karen (Judy Greer), Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Allyson (Andi Matichak) in Halloween Kills, directed by David Gordon Green.

Article by Riley Farrell

The cast and crew of Halloween Kills told Blendtw why the latest slasher’s gore is anything but gratuitous in a year like 2021. 

Jamie Lee Curtis, Andi Matichak, Anthony Michael Hall, Kyle Richards, Malek Akkad, David Gordon Green and Jason Blum tell horror fans to expect carnage. After all, Halloween Kills must live up to its title.

Chainsaws buzzing and bats swinging, Halloween Kills is a current-day cathartic catastrophe – and no character is safe – according to producer Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions.

Halloween Kills is the 12th movie in Michael Myers’ macrocosm, with the 13th, and allegedly final, movie coming out in 2022. When seriously injured Laurie Strode thought she killed Michael Myers after 42 years of trailing him, his annual bloodbath recommences. Sick of living at the mercy of “pure evil,” the town’s vigilantes revolt against the boogieman. 

 

“Subtlety is not this film,” said director David Gordon Green, on fitting in as much bloodshed as possible in 105 minutes.

 

The cast filmed Halloween Kills two years ago and shelved it due to the pandemic, until now.

Picking up where Halloween (2018) left off, the film explores the aftermath of collective trauma, said Green. Given everything that’s ensued in the last two years, viewers do not have to live in Haddonfield to understand suffering, and inversely, resilience. 

 

“We’ve taken a slasher movie and it’s landed in a time of cultural relevance because of our public consciousness,” said Green. “Though [the movie is] grotesque, there are moments when we feel the humanity underneath the surface of this movie monster.”

 

Halloween Kills brought back two characters from the 1978 Halloween in Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall) and Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards), the two children who Laurie babysat during Michael’s initial attack. Hall and Richards did not require much persuasion to hop on the franchise, said Green.

 

Halloween kills

Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in Halloween Kills, directed by David Gordon Green

The callbacks of all-grown-up characters, of course, evokes nostalgia. But the twist on the trope is that, instead of running from Michael, the kids now face him head-on, said Richards. Hall, who described Halloween Kills as a “thrill ride” and “freight train,” said the slasher hinges on human resilience.

 

“We summoned something deep in themselves and decided to fight back, we’re not just survivors but fighters,” said Hall.

 

Resilience as a motif snugly fits within the cultural zeitgeist, even earning a title as Forbes’ 2021 word of the year. Though coincidental, the visceral and violent images in Halloween Kills harken to audiences’ nihilistic experiences of the past 18-months. Producer Malek Akkad said the slasher film can paradoxically be pertinent yet escapist for viewers who’ve experienced the horror genre by simply reading the news.

 

“It’s tough for everybody right now and this movie’s just a fun release,” said Akkad. “There’s nothing more cathartic for people watching than to see a final girl like Laurie.”

 

For reference, the final girl trope, pioneered by the character of Laurie Strode in John Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween, represents the heroine left standing at the end of a horror movie who is charged with defeating the antagonist. Film theorist Carol J. Clover coined the term in her 1992 book, ‘Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film.’ The final girl has been observed in many films, including The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Alien, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream.

 Scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis said she was unaware of the meaning and dialogue surrounding the final girl until recently. She argued, even though the trope has immense cultural significance, the original idea of the final girl is uncomplicated.

 

“The term is just about the tenacity of women to survive because, the truth is, women have survived through a lot,” said Curtis.

 

No characters know survival better than the Strode women. Andi Matichak, who plays Laurie’s granddaughter, and Curtis agreed that their favorite behind-the-scenes moment centered on feminine resilience in spite of harsh conditions.

 

Halloween Kills

Michael Myers (aka The Shape) in Halloween Kills, directed by David Gordon Green.

It was a frigid 4 a.m. shoot, and the three generations of Strode ladies were alone in a truck, coated in fake blood, with only each other and a camera rig for warmth, Matichak described. This moment was the last time Laurie, Karen and Allyson were on screen together.

 

“It was a powerful moment to lean on each other and feel the weight of the project,” Matichak said.

 

Cutting through the sweet moments is the slasher at the heart of the story, said Curtis on the “high octave, frenzied” plot of Halloween Kills. For audiences who’ve lived through the chaos of the past two years, Halloween Kills should match their fast pace of existence.

 

“The past is irrelevant, you’re so in the present moment,” said Curtis.

 

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Waving Through A Big Screen: ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ Cast Talks Film Adaptation

With Ben Platt reprising his Tony-winning role as the show’s titular character, a whole new Hollywood cast takes on Broadway.

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A boy and girl laughing

Content warning: mentions of anxiety, depression and suicide.

Article by Riley Farrell

All that it takes is a bit of reinvention for Dear Evan Hansen to move from the theatre to theaters, hitting eardrums on Sept. 24 this year.

With Ben Platt reprising his Tony-winning role as the show’s titular character, a whole new Hollywood cast takes on Broadway. Platt, Julianne Moore, Amandla Stenberg, Amy Adams, Danny Pino, Kaitlyn Dever, Stephen Chbosky and Steven Levenson explained the movie’s newfound reach and relevance in an interview with BLENDtw, among other publications.

The Plot Thickens

A boy between two trees in a forest

Dear Evan Hansen

Begrudgingly in therapy for anxiety, high schooler Evan Hansen is tasked with writing daily letters to himself, hence the movie title. After Evan’s peer Connor Murphy kills himself with Evan’s letter in his backpack, Evan’s page is mistakenly thought to be a suicide note from Connor. 

Evan tells a well-meaning white lie that soon darkens with self-interest to get closer to the Murphy family, which includes Connor’s sister Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever), and Connor’s mom and dad (Amy Adams and Danny Pino, respectively). Via fake emails and a fundraiser, what once began as a misunderstanding spirals into an operatic betrayal about teens and their screens. 

Oh, How Times Have Changed (Or Not)

A boy and woman sitting on a couch

Dear Evan Hansen

To address the obvious, it has been a long time since DEH initially premiered in 2015 – but the cast said the musical remains relevant. Things have changed: a pandemic rocked our worldviews and Ben Platt, shockingly, aged.

Platt, 27, played Evan in the original musical version. After the movie trailer dropped in 2021, Platt faced online backlash over playing a character a decade younger, even though he lost 15 pounds and changed his styling routine to appear youthful.

“As a parent, I saw a teenager in Ben’s demeanor,” Julianne Moore, who plays Evan’s mom, said in Platt’s defense.

Speaking of something that’s aged us all, COVID-19, the ideas explored about mental health in DEH six years ago seem timely today, said Dever.

“This film is about feeling isolated, after the pandemic, we’re looking to feel heard,” said the Booksmart actress.

A 2021 study from the National Institute of Health found that anxiety symptoms increased during the COVID shutdowns, making ordering delivery and asking peers to sign your cast daunting. This film was a refreshing counter-narrative on what anxiety looks like, demographically and behaviorally, said Stenberg, who shared an on-set story about the stakes of DEH.

Chbosky, the author of Perks of Being Wallflower, showed a letter to Stenberg that a teenager had written to him after reading the novel. The reader expressed how his suicidal ideation disappeared after reading Chbosky’s book. That book saved him, said Stenberg. After that experience, Stenberg said she felt the movie served as an opportunity for mental health representation, not tokenism.

 “I was excited to be playing a Black girl who is on medication,” Stenberg said of her high-achieving teen character, Alana Beck.

There’s no one face or behavior associated with anxiety, Stenberg said. Stenberg said she’s been prescribed medication as a teenager but has only recently come to terms with the shame she felt about mental health.

 

Movie Magic

A boy alone on a stage wearing a tie

Dear Evan Hansen

The year isn’t the only context that’s changed. The medium by which this sensitive story is delivered has transformed from the live stage to the screen. Freedoms of editing and re-filming takes helped storytelling, said Chbosky, who felt ‘obsessed’ with the spotlighting of each character.

Via camerawork, Chbosky and Levenson said they more innovatively explored symbolism and imagery. The film’s juxtaposition between social media and nature – contrasting screens with sunlight as motifs – is about duplicity in the dark and authenticity in the light, said Chbosky.

 “You can’t have truth without the lie,” said Chbosky.

The filmmaking medium aided in communicating the perils of presenting a fake self online, said Levenson. 

 “We wanted to play with the idea of how fast lies can spread online,” said Levenson. “How untrue things make you feel great and the complicated nature of that.”

Expanded audiences can enjoy the story now that it has transcended the Broadway medium. Though fans of the original musical will encounter changes to the original stage material, Platt said he thinks Evan’s move from the stage to the screen is a step towards accessibility. The message of DEH is magnified when more audience members are added to the conversation, said the Pitch Perfect actor.

 “No matter what, it’s important for me to communicate that there’s nothing that makes you unlovable,” said Platt.

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