On Fictional Immigrants, Accents & Why We Like What We Like

I’ve mentioned my love for Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz) and his accent, on more than one occasion, but yesterday a thought occurred to me – a sort of, “Which came first? The chicken or the egg?” sort of question. I wondered, was it already pre-programmed within me to like accents and Ricky Ricardo just happened to be the first to ignite it? – Or was there something about Ricky Ricardo that created a preference for that specific quality?

Whether it’s accents or ice cream flavors, who can really say why we like what we like? Maybe a psychologist or brain specialist of some sort would be able to explain this better – I’m not really prepared to delve into that today, or probably ever.

What I do want to talk about are fictional immigrants in film and television, as well as actors putting on an accent which is not native to them, because these are stories and characters I’m very often drawn to. There’s a fine line between creating an authentic character and one that reinforces stereotypes, but I’ve had some favorites over the years. Here they are in no particular order.

Actor Bronson Pinchot played the very loveable Balki Bartokomous on the sitcom Perfect Strangers. Balki was supposed to be from a fictional island in the Mediterranean Sea called Mypos. Pinchot is an American actor born in New York.

Actor Tom Hanks played Viktor Navorski of the fictional country Krakozhia in the movie, The Terminal. Tom Hanks was originally born in California, and you probably already know what his regular speaking voice sounds like.

Actor Adhir Kalyan played Raja Musharaff, a Pakistani exchange student sent to live with a family in Wisconsin on the TV show Aliens in America. In real life, Adhir Kalyan was born in South Africa and speaks with a lovely South African accent.

Actor Naveen Andrews played Sayid Jarrah, an Iraqi character on the TV show LOST. Andrews was actually born in London, England and is of Indian heritage. His regular speaking voice is with a British accent.

Can you think of other actors who played characters from fictional countries or who put on an accent that wasn’t their own?

One comment

  1. I loved Fez on That 70’s Show and enjoy the other characters from fictional countries. Characters from a real country are more difficult to do well. The character that really bothers me is on the show “Jessie” on the Disney channel (and prominently featured in the kids’ section on Netflix). Ravi is a little boy from India who is pure stereotype. The actor who plays him was born in the US and had to be taught to speak with any accent at all, much less an accent that actually becomes more and more exaggerated the longer the character lives with his new adoptive family in New York. The Hindu religion is nothing more than a completely ridiculous, funny set of weird superstitions that make no sense at all. The boy being from India is given as the reason he’s socially awkward, overly attached to animals, and freakishly gifted with computers. It would bother me anyway, but what grinds my gears is that this is all done in a show geared specifically to children. And “Jessie” is actually one of the better Disney shows. Most of their other live-actor shows are way worse. Parents turn on a Disney show and at some point walk away to put laundry in the dryer, the phone rings, etc. and the parent is not rushing over to push pause on a children’s show, assuming if it is maybe a bit trite at times, Disney is at least safe for kids. Defintely not!!!

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