Have you seen Outsourced yet?
The show isn’t just funny, it’s groundbreaking on many levels. Outsourced is opening doors, windows–and one also gets the sense that it may one day lower something of an iron-clad drawbridge for up-and-coming artists of my generation who have been hungry for more cultural diversity in the media and popular artistic genres since before Obama. In Outsourced, we finally have a program that is doing well, by doing right: making a conscious attempt at showing an authentic India in all its religious and ethnic complexities. Which, if you can imagine, is only a sliver of what the entire world, of which the United States has always been a part, truly is–a brilliant and often painfully-beautiful multicutural reality.
Consider that, for so long, having a black president on a television show was a hard and fast way to establish setting, as did actor Dennis Haysbert’s, President David Palmer on 24, or Avery Brooks’ Captain Benjamin Sisko on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Both iconic roles, cast as racially distinct characters, served to help establish the sense of a future where many of humanity’s problems were already resolved, and then it was easier for these shows to focus on conveying greater moral battles to the audience. (It’s also tempting to make the connection here, that fiction, in a fantasy setting, is ruthlessly effective at managing the same thing, by leaving what is a human struggle the only familiar element in exotic universes.) And these days, we’re living in that very world where real diversity is right on our flat-screens. Freaky, huh?
Well, it’s really a more intimate, progressive future we’re living in than even that:
In an interview that appeared on online magazine Religion Dispatches just last Friday, November 11, a background actress on Outsourced, Sara Zerina Usmen, spoke eloquently about what the show has been able to gift fellow Americans:
“Outsourced is navigating uncharted waters and proving it can be done in today’s climate. American society is more than ready to discuss hot topics in comedy in good measure… In fact, I think we need shows like Outsourced. America is in an identity crisis, and trying to reconcile its past isolation with a rapidly changing global present. There’s a lot of tension in society around race, religion, and economics in recent years spiking in election seasons. If we can’t laugh about difficult things, how can we get through them?”
Sarah is also, herself, the real deal–She’s not just a unique, recurring presence on the show, as possibly the first character in a while on television to regularly wear a hijab. Sarah is a talented young director and writer working on the ground right now in Hollywood to start her film career. She’s already seen some success too, through Queens of Waban Entertainment, namely for her award-winning documentary Muslims in Love.
For that reason, I was humbled and greatly honored that Sarah Zerina Usmen mentioned me, when asked who her favorite author was:
“And my favorite authors are as of yet unpublished! I would look out for the upcoming fantasy novels of Puja B. Canta, whose vivid imagination for characters and storytelling far surpasses mine.”
Sarah is familiar with so many random stories I’ve been telling and writing over the years about talking horses, elephant men who win crowns not for their illegal mating dances but by pretending to be cursed with having to listen to a woman, Muslim princesses who enchant Christian kings through a kind of medieval political satire of their polarized policies, and interracial love triangles that reincarnate themselves from an ancient time to enforce encore apocalypses on worlds that didn’t want to discover one another–all in what only at first seem to be your regular fantasy-fiction settings. Sarah has also read the first chapter of my novel manuscript-in-progress, which is slated to complete late this year.
Likely, this won’t be the last time you see a cross-country artistic connection as intriguing as this one, between a black DC native and a South Asian-American Muslim in Hollywood. It shouldn’t be so surprising in this country. Mostly because, there are so many similar, bright and committed people already in the U.S. who have been wanting a voice too, for a long time now. As I’ve already said, the future of story-telling is here. It’s on television in Outsourced, it’s already in films like Muslims in Love–and it’s only a matter of time before the future is on your bookshelves or clogging up the mysterious innerworkings of newfangled iPads too, with shining gold, bisexual dragons from the ancient Ghananian Empire.
I’m electric that there are artists out there in my generation who are trying to open doors to diversity for all of us, especially in film, where our voices are needed. Whatever could be next?
Here, I’m tempted to say ‘Yo Momma.’ But I don’t dare waste this rare opportunity to tell the world about another amazing development and end this article on an intellectual high note–Ah, screw it.
YO MOMMA is next.
…That was so worth it.
Outsourced, Thursdays 9:30/8:30c, NBC