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Indian Accents

Brown Voice and Racial Performance in American Television and Film

Shilpa S. Dave

Publication Year: 2013

Amid immigrant narratives of assimilation, Indian Accents focuses on the representations and stereotypes of South Asian characters in American film and television. Exploring key examples in popular culture ranging from Peter Sellers' portrayal of Hrundi Bakshi in the 1968 film The Party to contemporary representations such as Apu from The Simpsons and characters in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, Shilpa S. Dave develops the ideas of "accent," "brownface," and "brown voice" as new ways to explore the racialization of South Asians beyond just visual appearance. Dave relates these examples to earlier scholarship on blackface, race, and performance to show how "accents" are a means of representing racial difference, national origin, and belonging, as well as distinctions of class and privilege. While focusing on racial impersonations in mainstream film and television, Indian Accents also amplifies the work of South Asian American actors who push back against brown voice performances, showing how strategic use of accent can expand and challenge such narrow stereotypes.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: The Asian American Experience


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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pp. 4-4

Copyright Page

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pp. 5-5


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pp. v-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

I owe many thanks to the people who have helped support and develop this project. When I was a graduate student at the University of Michigan, Stephen Sumida and Simon Gikandi encouraged my early approaches to the intersection of Asian American literature and postcolonial narratives. Gail Nomura, Andrea Press, and Patricia Yaeger introduced me...

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Introduction: Rethinking Accents in America

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pp. 1-18

In 1990, the animated Indian immigrant character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon made his first extended appearance on the Fox network prime-time series The Simpsons. One of his signature characteristics was his distinct Indian accent. In the episode “Much Apu about Nothing,” Apu feels compelled to change the Indian accent...

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1. South Asians and the Hollywood Party: Peter Sellers and Brownface Performances

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pp. 19-39

Even though it seems as if South Asians are ever present in contemporary television and film, this was not the case in the twentieth century. Prior to 2000, the most recognizable South Asian characters on American network television was the animated character Apu on The Simpsons (1989–).1 In the film industry, independent filmmakers, British...

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2. Apu’s Brown Voice: The Simpsons and Indian American Accents

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pp. 40-59

The Simpsons’ ninth-season episode “Much Apu about Nothing” reflects the conflict between the promise of the American Dream for immigrants and the pressures of cultural assimilation that lead immigrants to deny their cultural identity and focus on how the vocal nature of brown voice operates as an Indian accent. Apu vents his frustration, after masquerading...

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3. Animating Gandhi: Historical Figures, Asian American Masculinity, and Model-Minority Accents in Clone High

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pp. 60-84

During the last week of January 2003, the Indian Press attacked MTV USA programming choices and Maxim magazine’s publishing decisions by protesting the “attempt to humiliate the father of the nation,” Mohandas Gandhi.1 Indian politicians condemned MTV’s promotion of the teenage character Gandhi on the television broadcast animated series...

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4. Indian Gurus in the American Marketplace: Consumer Spirituality in The Love Guru and The Guru

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pp. 85-110

One cultural value historically associated in American mass media with South Asians is the practice of Eastern spiritualism. Early Hollywood films depicted India as a land full of mystical powers and religious cults. American cultural representations of Indian spirituality in the 1960s and 1970s were associated with the new-age movement and hippie culture; Indian...

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5. The (Asian) American Dream: Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and the Pan-Ethnic Buddy Film

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pp. 111-126

The comedic pairing of the characters Harold Lee and Kumar Patel in the Harold and Kumar films places Asian American and, specifically, Indian accents at the center of American culture. While the previous chapters discuss brownface and brown-voice racial performances as the means to exoticize South Asians as cultural objects or assimilate...

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6. "Running from the Joint": Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay and Comic Narrative after 9/11

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pp. 127-150

Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008), written and directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, not only fits into the genre of stoner films but also is part of a growing body of films that chronicle the events and fallout of the 9/11 attacks in the United States. Hollywood and American television were initially cautious to develop...

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pp. 151-157

Indian Accents presents how racial performance of and by South Asians in American television and film acts as both an expression of privilege and difference with regards to racial identity. The progression of Indian accents, such as brownface and brown-voice performance, is not linear but, in fact, teleological as seen by the reappearance of racial stereotypes...


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pp. 159-182


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pp. 183-191

E-ISBN-13: 9780252094583
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252037405

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: The Asian American Experience
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OCLC Number: 835981072
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Indian Accents

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Motion pictures -- United States.
  • East Indians in motion pictures.
  • Accents and accentuation in motion pictures.
  • Accents and accentuation in television programs.
  • Television programs -- United States.
  • English language -- United States -- Accents and accentuation.
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