Comedian Hasan Minhaj started trending on Twitter last week after a clip from his 2019 Vanity Fair Lie Detector Test resurfaced. When asked to rate the attractiveness of actor Dax Shepard, Minhaj reluctantly gave him a “6.57,” prompting the interviewer to reply with “harsh.”
But Minhaj wasn’t saying this to just be mean. He quickly followed up his brutally honest rating by saying that Shephard benefits from a Hollywood phenomenon which gives white men more opportunities in entertainment than men of color.
“[In show business], Dax is part of … this whole movement of approachable white dudes. Whereas, with men of color, it’s [either you have to look like] Idris Elba, Henry Golding, Zayn Malik, or you work in IT,” Minhaj said.
The idea to rate Shepard sprung from a podcast episode between him and Minhaj, in which Shepard rated the “Patriot Act” host a nine out of 10 on the attractiveness scale. Vanity Fair asked Minhaj if he was bothered that he was not rated a 10 instead. Minhaj said he took no offense and even stated that the rating was “way too high.”
As tough as he may have been on Shepard, especially considering how high of a rating Shephard gave him, Minhaj is right. Unlike with white men, there is no middle ground for men of color. There have been plenty of Hollywood movies, from romantic comedies to action films, with “schlubby white dudes” as the male leads while men of color just do not have that opportunity in Hollywood.
Thus, after being asked if he thought he was better looking than Shephard, Minhaj replied with a hesitant, but confident, “yes.”
“But I will not get the same opportunities that Dax does,” he said.
It’s a fair response, and a true one at that. Minhaj uses what would otherwise be a trivial debate over who is better looking to highlight the disparity between men of color and white men in Hollywood.
Many Twitter users were quick to agree with Minhaj, sharing some examples of this very trend. White male actors such as Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen have a long resume of playing romantic leads while men of color are usually reduced to comedic relief or supporting characters. And on the rare occasion men of color do get to play leads, they are usually extremely “ripped” or appear in roles “defined by their race,” such as Golding in “Crazy Rich Asians” or Trevante Rhodes in “Moonlight.”
Minhaj further explained the high standards for Asian men.
“You’ve got to have the like, the V-taper in your abs if you’re gonna be Asian … You gotta be Daniel Dae Kim ripped, like you can’t ever have bread or cereal.”
Sometimes even being “Daniel Dae Kim ripped” isn’t enough for Hollywood, or fans, to accept certain Asian men in roles. When Simu Liu — who happens to have the coveted “V-taper” Minhaj mentioned — was announced as the star of Marvel’s Shang-Chi, many voiced their opposition and called him “too ugly” for the role. Asian American men in general have long been “characterized as passive, effeminate and weak,” stemming from the need to reduce the threat of Chinese men “stealing white American jobs and women” when they first immigrated to the United States. These stereotypes made their way into Hollywood — which can be seen early on in the character Mr. Yunioshi from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s — and for years, the entertainment industry continued to uphold that stereotype. It is only in recent decades that there have been new opportunities for Asian men, but the continuous typecasting of such roles has left its mark on Hollywood.
It is necessary to have diversity of race and body types in Hollywood. Not everyone has to be extremely ripped or fit a certain look to star in films. But if we are going to do that, we need to open up these opportunities for men of color too, not just for “schlubby [white] dudes.” It doesn’t matter if you find Shephard more attractive than Minhaj, or vice versa. The point remains that men of color simply do not get the same opportunities as white men do in Hollywood.
Jacqueline Nguyen is an Opinion Intern for the 2020 Fall Quarter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.