Indian actor on 'Schitt's Creek' called out for having Indian accent

Indian-Canadian actor Rizwan Manji is facing controversy from social media users complaining about his made-up "stereotypical Indian accent" on the hit show "Schitt's Creek."


Indian-Canadian actor Rizwan Manji is facing controversy from social media users complaining about his made-up "stereotypical Indian accent" on the hit show "Schitt's Creek."

Manji portrays the recurring Ray Butani on the critically acclaimed sitcom, an eccentric jack-of-all-trades businessman who runs an enterprise that ranges from real estate to Christmas tree sales. The travel agent turned-photographer and part-time closet organizer also processes paperwork in his office.

In an interview with the Toronto Star, Manji—who was born in Toronto to Indian parents—revealed that he came up with the character's accent on his own and did not believe the characterization was offensive.

"It is a very slight Indian accent—somebody who was probably raised in Canada, but probably was born in India or Pakistan," Manji told the publication. "I don't regret that because I think it actually works for Ray. He wasn't like everybody else in that town. He was from somewhere else."

When he was cast, Manji recounted that producers afforded him free rein to develop his on-screen persona. At one particular table read, he tried out an accent similar to one he had performed in a previous role. Manji claimed the show's star and co-creator, Dan Levy, approved of the attempt.

Levy even praised Manji's depiction and commended his "thoughtful choices" he had made independent of the producers.

"All characters on our show were created with love, respect and humanity," Levy said in a statement to the Star. "It has been gratifying to have these intentions reflected through the overwhelming audience support for these characters. That said, I welcome any perspectives that encourage conversations about diversity, especially in entertainment."

While Levy did not express issue with that aspect of Manji's character, he did wish the writers had given the television personality more of a fleshed-out backstory.

"If you want to criticize something, do that," Manji fired back at naysayers. "We need to have three-dimensional characters."

At the outset of his acting career in the 1990s, Manji accepted the only roles available to him: playing convenience store clerks and cab drivers. The offers typically asked him to fake an Indian accent for comedic effect.

"We would joke about it. 'This is so offensive. This is so offensive,'" the Toronto native recounted to the Star. "It's not like we didn't know."

Manji noted that while approximately 60 percent of his roles have involved using accents, he only employs them when he feels they're necessary to the character's portrayal.

Several critics told the Star that they felt that Manji's characterization was still playing into the expectations of white audiences and showrunners.

One Twitter user lambasted the series, which prides itself on inclusivity. "The thing that bothers me is the character of Ray Butani and his stereotypical Indian accent," the account wrote, still congratulating the Emmy award-winning breakout comedy that just ended its six-season run earlier this year.

"I like the character but I don't understand the need for this stereotype. According to the character himself he is from Winnipeg, then why doesn't he talk like every other North American character," she wrote.

"I have known people who picked up the American accent quicker than the years Ray has been on the show. It's just that I expected this show to go beyond stereotypes of this sort because I honestly love the show," the critic continued.

Another Twitter user protested the "criminal underuse" of Manji's character, demanding a rewrite with three or four times as much of his appearance.

"An Indian actor playing an Indian man is under fire for having an Indian accent?" questioned journalist Zaid Jilani.

"Had he done the opposite and played a character who is completely Americanized, he would have been deemed 'whitewashed.' Poor guy can't win," Jilani pointed out, linking a viral comedy skit that shed a light on the ironic similarities between the "woke" white mob and the racists they detest.


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