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In a recent New York Times profile of Nanjiani, producer Judd Apatow explains that The Big Sick “had to be the perfect script to try to get funding.” Though it’s directed by comedy scene veteran Michael Showalter, Apatow suggests that because the romantic comedy focuses on the experiences of an immigrant Muslim comedian in love, it breaks certain rules of the genre and was therefore a harder sell.Namely, like only a few Apatow-produced films before it (Bridesmaids, Trainwreck) — The Big Sick doesn’t center around a white guy.All three comedians are adept at talking about race and their experience of being raised Muslim in this country, and can’t necessarily be expected to represent experiences — or desires — besides their own.But nevertheless, they do all end up appealing to a certain, familiar fantasy of manhood.Ansari, whose star rose by playing silly but slightly misogynist men in projects like Funny People and Parks and Recreation, begins the second season of his show with a black-and-white episode set in Italy called “The Thief,” a play on Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, and a 30-minute romantic comedy on its own.It features a dreamlike encounter between Ansari’s Dev and a British woman named Sara, who is black (played by Clare-Hope Ashitey).There’s a notion that comedies like Allen’s — which Ansari praises for being “driven by point of view” rather than appearance — opened doors for unconventionally attractive men to step into the romantic lead (such as Rogen).But the vast majority of romantic comedies are still about white people, and most are still made by white men.
Allen — despite his daughter’s public allegations of sexual abuse — is still making Oscar-nominated movies about those types of characters, and his influence is all over hit shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm and Louie.And so, at a time when people with names like Nanjiani are being openly demonized and attacked, it means something that millions of Americans are being asked to see these men as people who love, and who are loved — and that South Asian American Muslims can see themselves depicted in this way as well.But, as Apatow alludes to, there are some very familiar things about these scripts.They meet-cute at a restaurant, have a great day, and she gives him her number.Unfortunately, Dev’s phone is stolen soon after, and he loses the chance to meet up with Sara again.
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Apparently, The Big Sick — which premiered at Sundance in January, was sold to Amazon Studios for $12 million, and has enjoyed an overwhelmingly positive critical reception — has found a formula for success in the still mostly white genre of romantic comedies.