Actor Rizwan Manji has addressed criticism surrounding his accent on ‘Schitt’s Creek’ while challenging the show’s treatment of his character, Ray Butani.
In a recent interview with the Toronto Star, Manji opened up about negative feedback the hit comedy series has received from some who found his character’s Indian accent offensive.
The Canadian actor, who does not speak with an Indian accent in real life, defended the performance choice and clarified that he was not asked to give Ray an accent by anyone on the show.
“It is a very slight Indian accent — somebody who was probably raised in Canada, but probably was born in India or Pakistan,” Rizwan told the Star in an interview published Tuesday.
“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.”
As someone who is “already marginalised” in the entertainment industry, Manji added that he doesn’t shy away from taking roles available to him, accent or not. He also questioned why white performers, such as Meryl Streep, are not subject to the same level of scrutiny when adopting accents for roles.
On ‘Schitt’s Creek’ — an Emmy-winning show about out-of-touch rich people adapting to life in a small rural town after losing their family fortune — Manji portrayed a tireless local salesman who peddles everything from real estate and travel deals to Christmas trees and photography.
Instead of criticising Ray’s accent, Manji encouraged a deeper analysis of Ray’s character development — or lack thereof — calling the sitcom out for failing to flesh out one of its only non-white roles.
“If you want to criticise something, do that,” he said. “We need to have three-dimensional characters.”
While ‘Schitt’s Creek’ has garnered much acclaim for its inclusive approach to LGBTQ representation, several commenters on social media have echoed Manji’s concerns about the show’s portrayal of Ray.
“Why go to the effort of writing in a character with an Indian name played by an Indian actor whose main personality trait is that he is stupid and has an accent?” wrote electrical engineer Rishi Maharaj on Twitter. “Why did Rizwan Manji have to do that?”
In response to the controversy surrounding Ray, ‘Schitt’s Creek’ star and co-creator Dan Levy lauded Manji’s performance and reiterated in a statement to the Star that “no accent was called for in the casting or specified in the scripts.”
“Ray was conceived as a character of Indian (descent) which we cast with Canadian-born actor Rizwan Manji, who is of Indian (descent),” Levy said. “The thoughtful choices that Rizwan made in his portrayal in the audition room perfectly encapsulated the warmth and the energy of Ray.
“All characters on our show were created with love, respect and humanity,” Levy added. “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.”
‘Schitt’s Creek’ wrapped up with its sixth and final season in April.