Mallika Chopra: Racism in the Media – Ashton Kutcher, Pop Chips, & Disney’s Jesse

Thank you, Anil Dash – and other social media influencers – for voicing your disappointment with Pop Chips, Ashton Kutcher, and the agencies involved in the offensive Pop Chips ad where Ashton Kutcher wears brown make up to act like a goofy Bollywood producer.

Seriously. What were they thinking?

What I appreciate most is Anil Dash’s clear, smart reaction with specific action steps on “How to Fix Pop Chips Racist Ad Campaign.”  He suggests: (1) Keep the campaign up, (2) link to an apology, and (3) have the company, agencies and Ashton Kutcher apologize too.

Looks like the CEO pulled the ad and issued an apology, and the video of the offensive has been pulled offline.

It’s disappointing for me to see how mainstream media and brands play into racist stereotypes.  A few weeks ago, my daughters were watching Jesse on The Disney Channel.  I was appalled to see how Ravi, a young Indian character on the show, was mocked and made into a slapstick “Fresh Off The Boat” character.  In this clip, he says, “Hey Ganesh, I’m a Human Samosa.” He then goes on to give an explanation of Karma. It amazes me that writers could actually think this is acceptable.

My daughters — ages 7 and 10 — both instinctively knew that something was wrong when we saw Ravi’s character on the show.  They squirmed and looked at me uncomfortably. Rather than shut the television off, I watched the show with them, amazed that a company like Disney would let this air.  We then had a long talk about racism. I told them about how for a long time African Americans were portrayed as dumb slaves.  How for many years Russians, and now Muslims, are portrayed as evil in movies.  They wanted to know why it was ok to show a young Indian boy the way Ravi was being portrayed on Disney today. I had nothing to say.

It’s not ok.

Leela, my 7 year old, herself decided that Jesse was not an appropriate show moving forward in our house.  She remains unsettled and uncomfortable from the portrayal of Indians on this show.

Thanks again, Anil, for giving voice to the Pop Chips debacle . You inspired me to write this. It’s so important we bring awareness to ignorance — like Anil, I don’t think the writers, producers, or actors on these shows are racist.  I think it’s just ignorance and a willingness by viewers to accept these stereotypes as harmless.  As viewers or consumers, we have to say it’s not ok.


  1. I'd like to understand how any of that ad was racist. People like you make me sick and ashamed of being an Indian. What about those fair and lovely and fair and handsome commercials on Indian TV. Aren't those racist too? India is so full of hypocrites like you and your friend Anil Dash.

  2. Mallika,

    I recently had the exact same reaction when my boys, 9 and 5, were watching Jessie.

    I tweeted something very similar to your blog in response to Anil's post on the PopChips ad, wondering why Ravi has such an awful accent (and a pet gila monster).!/pujalords/status/197888487

    I suppose in Disney's view, it's a form of progress that the exotic Indian boy didn't bring his cobra and snake charming flute.

    The same is true for Raj Koothrapalli on Big Bang Theory, who can't speak to women without the aid of alcohol.

    I wonder if the homogeneous Hollywood and ad industries are able to see how they shape views of The Other with their simplistic portrayals of people who don't look like them.

    My solution was to buy Ashton Kutcher some Fair and Lovely before his next taping of Two and a Half Men…

    I suppose we can take some comfort that Ravi didn't just take his hazing lightly, and paid back his brother in kind. But retaliation isn't the message that Disney ought to be sending about bullying, even when it's within the family.

    I'm off to delete Jessie from the DVR…

  3. Karthik
    That is really funny about sending Fair and Lovely to Ashton. LOL!!
    Sad that your sons had the same reactions to Jesse – it really is such an inappropriate portrayal of a young Indian boy and you are right, such the wrong message around bullying.
    I haven't watched the Big Bang Theory so can offer my thoughts on Raj…
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  4. Since Indians are a small minority in the US, and also becuase we can take a joke and have a high toleran e level, Indian-Americans don't complain when things are offensive as much as other people. I think that's why you get a lot of stereotypical characters like Baljit(Pheneas and Ferb) Raj in the big bang theory, Apu in the Simpsons, etc. But these are actually okay, and funny too. I just can't bear to watch Ravi on Disney Channel. It's completely unacceptable and racist. It doesn't even make fun of stereotypes, but directly at Hinduism, and our culture, and seems to mock us directly( Zuri once called Ravi "Mogli" once, and this was portrayed as "normal") I've looked around the Internet, and it seems ALL the Indians are offended at his portrayal. No one think's it a joke, but it also seems no one's trying to catch disney channel's attention either……