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Listen: How Aasif Mandvi Told ‘a Story About Brown People That Nobody Else Was Telling’

Aasif Mandvi thinks Hollywood and the entertainment industry are making some positive strides toward inclusion and diversity — but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

“There is a sense that when you tell a story about people of color, it either has to be the worst thing that ever happened or the greatest thing that ever happened,” said writer-actor Mandvi, a former correspondent on “The Daily Show,” appearing on the latest episode of Variety‘s theater podcast, “Stagecraft.” “It’s gotta be like ‘Hidden Figures,’ a story like that where: They saved NASA! That’s how high the bar is set for them to make a movie about three black women! Meanwhile you’ve got Jennifer Lawrence making that movie ‘Joy,’ which is about a white woman that invented a mop. If that was a Muslim woman, and I was like, ‘Oh, her name is Fatima and she invents a mop?’ No, we’re not making that story.”

Mandvi, who appeared on Broadway in the 2002 revival of “Oklahoma!” and was last on stage in New York in the Off Broadway premiere of “Disgraced,” is currently returning to a 20-year-old play that was itself a response to the lack of stories in entertainment about people of color. A one-man show written and performed by Mandvi, “Sakina’s Restaurant” looks at the immigrant experience from a handful of different perspectives. “It was a way for me to tell a story about brown people that nobody else was telling,” he said on the podcast.

The revival of the Obie-winning 1998 show is produced by Audible, which will also release an audio version of the play. “When Audible approached me, the Muslim ban was happening,” Mandvi recalled. “Soon after that you had little kids being put into cages and separated from their parents at the border. Suddenly this conversation about immigration, this conversation about who’s an American and who’s allowed in this country and what does it mean to be an American, became so much at the forefront of our national consciousness again that it felt like weirdly ‘Sakina’s Restaurant’ was relevant again, in a humanizing way.”

New episodes of “Stagecraft” are available every Tuesday. Download and subscribe to “Stagecraft” on iTunesStitcher, or anywhere finer podcasts are dispensed. Find past episodes here and on Apple Podcasts.

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