On a slow weekend, I often find comfort binge-watching the latest series and films that depict stories from the Desi or South Asian diaspora.
The narratives in these movies and shows accurately reflect my community’s cultural values on the silver screen, unlike how South Asian stories have historically been misportrayed through stock characters or even white actors in brown face, mangling American argot.
This want for South Asians wishing to be represented through fully-developed characters opens up the playing field for media conglomerates and streaming services to churn out these much-needed stories. When there is demand, there must be supply.
Popular shows such as Netflix’s Never Have I Ever… and Disney+’s Ms. Marvel centring on South Asian stories and narratives, prove the demand for more South Asian lead characters is high, with streaming services churning out more content starring South Asian actors.
Popular streaming services in North America may boast a library of South Asian content, with titles often trending in the top 10 spots. However, choices are still limited to a few South Asian cultures and languages. For instance, original programming on Netflix, like the reality series Indian Matchmaking or the rom-com Wedding Season, focuses primarily on Indian, Hindi-speaking or religiously Hindu cultures. India alone is not representative of South Asian culture.
Cpics, a new streaming service offering original programming focused on South Asian stories, plans to fill in the gaps with its slated launch in fall 2022. The streaming service will first launch in the United States, focusing primarily on a North American audience, with plans to eventually launch worldwide. Subscribers will have access to original television series and films across all genres, from reality to documentary to scripted.
“We need more content made by South Asian filmmakers that is authentic to the South Asian experience without having to mould to the platform they are on,” said Kavi Raz, the CEO and founder of Cpics. “With Cpics, I aim to have these stories as raw, genuine and unfiltered as possible.”
Some titles set to launch on Cpics include Desi terms, including The Gems of Ruby Hill, Dating Desi Ishstyle, The Plaza, and Bollywood Dance Academy, baiting potential customers with the sentimentality of representation. But will Cpics equitably the entire South Asian diaspora through its programming?
Through Cpics, Raz says he wants to go “deeper” into the experiences of different South Asian communities and cultures.
“We want to showcase stories, both good and bad, that are often overlooked,” he continues. Its first initiative is a mentorship program for budding South Asian filmmakers, whose projects will eventually be released and live on the streaming platform.
Raz is a pioneer of South Asian representation on both stage and screen. In the 1970s, he founded Wandering Players Theatre Company, the first professional South Asian theatre company in the United States. He got his start in Hollywood playing Dr. Vijay Kochar on St. Elsewhere in the 1980s, which gave industry heavyweights Denzel Washington and Howie Mandel their big break. But as one of the few South Asian actors working in American productions during that time, Raz says he was stereotyped into roles.
“It made me frustrated as I kept getting offered the cab driver role, and couldn’t break that mould,” says Raz. “On set, there were often times where the writers of the show didn’t know what kind of narrative to write for me or know how to embrace my identity as an Indian actor on a Western production.”
Once Raz found himself in decision-making positions: as producer, director and writer, he says he felt strongly about the need to educate future filmmakers about the importance of embracing their own identities.
“My goal is to make sure future creators are able to produce stories that aren’t cleaned up or white-washed to appeal to a wider audience,” says Raz. “I want audiences to have to open their minds to concepts and cultures that might be new to them.”