Marvel actor Kumail Nanjiani: "People don’t want to cast non-white people as bad guys"

The 'Welcome to Chippendales' star assures that he got the antagonist role out of necessity for the story and that the industry does not dare to cast "brown guys" as more generic villains.

Kumail Nanjiani, one of the stars of the Marvel movie Eternals, confirmed that Hollywood continues to have problems with race. According to an interview with the magazine Esquire, the film industry is still reluctant to cast "brown" actors in the roles of villains.

His statement raised eyebrows, especially considering his new series with Hulu, Welcome to Chippendales, in which he plays the story's antagonist, Somen "Steve" Banerjee. His character is the founder of the Chippendales, the first male strip joint on the West Coast that ended up becoming the site of a murder.

However, Nanjiani assures he got the role because of the needs of the story. The series is based on true events, and Banerjee was a poor Indian laborer who became a successful businessman. Otherwise, Nanjiani says, the role would surely have gone to a white actor:

I think that Hollywood now – even though they’re trying to be more diverse – is still weird. The problem is that good intentions can sometimes lead to misguided solutions: if the bad guy is a brown guy, what message is that sending? And that’s just as limiting as anything else. I want to play more bad guys.

Playing a villain was a dream come true

Nanjiani believes this is why he hasn't seen any other villain roles in his entire acting career. However, he also wants a career as diverse as that of, for example, his Marvel colleague Sebastian Stan.

Nanjiani points out that Stan had the opportunity to play a cannibal in Fresh in addition to taking on the role of the Winter Soldier in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: "He does these big Marvel movies, and then he’ll play a psychopath. I was told that’s going to be hard because people don’t want to cast non-white people as bad guys," he explained.

In fact, weeks earlier, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the actor expressed excitement about the opportunity to play, for the first time, someone as evil as Banerjee in what is also a lead role in a television series:

I’ve never gotten the opportunity to play a character like this, who has such a big arc and a descent into darkness. I’ve always [wanted to play] the bad guy — I don’t mean just guys who were kind of shitty; I mean a bad bad guy. The story itself was so exciting and unexpected.

There are, like, 20 unbelievable things that happen in the course of our show, and that all happened in real life. And it had interesting stuff to say about the American dream and how accessible it is to different kinds of people, and to see that through the lens of an immigrant. I’m an immigrant, and I had a certain idea of the American dream before coming here. And now, obviously, that’s evolved. To be able to explore that through the eyes of someone who, in some ways, had a similar experience to me is rare.

Nanjiani defends Tarantino

The Eternals actor also took the opportunity to talk about one of Marvel's latest controversies: Tarantino's statements about Hollywood, in which he accused the industry of seeming to only make superhero movies in what's called the "marveling" of the industry.

He, unlike Simu-Liu (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings), argued that both Tarantino and Martin Scorsese had earned every right to comment on both Marvel and the film industry:

I obviously love the movies Tarantino makes or Scorsese makes, and I may disagree with Scorsese’s opinion on superhero movies, but I mean, who else has earned the right to have an opinion? If Scorsese hasn’t earned the right to have an opinion on movies, then none of us should have an opinion on movies. It’s so strange that people get upset about it.