By Ria Prasad
August 18th, 2020 marked the end of an era. As Patriot Act host Hasan Minhaj announced the cancellation of his Netflix comedy series, fans all across the world felt a void take shape in their Netflix queues. Like many, Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act was a source of serotonin for me. I too, like many of Minhaj’s other fans, thought that the Patriot Act shaped space in my heart would fill up soon, but here I am almost four months later with what feels like a fresh wound that is never going to heal. From the outside, it may seem like a rather dramatic reaction to what is just another victim of Netflix’s mass cancellation of shows, but it feels a lot more personal than that. In the last few months I have browsed and waited for another show to come along to fill the absence of Patriot Act. Much to my despair, I’ve become almost positive that no show will ever compare. Aside from making Minhaj an even larger global sensation, Patriot Act was one of the greatest of its time, redefining the heights of news, representation, and political comedy.
Digestible News Redefined
Perhaps the most universal appeal of the show was the way Minhaj’s team crafted their episodes. From taking complex concepts such as drug pricing or the global oil crisis and explaining them through pop culture references to the FX team’s vivid and mesmerizing display of graphics on stage, the show in itself felt like a luxury experience. Not only did Patriot Act redefine the way news was presented, but the person who was delivering it- for the very first time- looked like me. Mainstream news outlets are still predominantly run by caucasians with very few people of color, most of which are Latinx and African Americans. Rarely does one ever see an Indian or Muslim American on news channels or in the political comedy space.
The peak of Indian-Muslim American representation in mainstream media
Minhaj brought to the stage, what to me was, the most dimensional South Asian representation in mainstream media. As a proud member of the diaspora, I have never been satisfied with the way first generation Indian Americans are portrayed in movies and TV. Over the last few years Netflix has tried to increase the number of South Asian faces we see in our Netflix queues by coming out with originals such as Never Have I Ever and Indian Matchmaking. However, I’ve come to resent their well-intentioned attempts. There always seems to be a white-wash filter over the Indian American characters they put forth. While every South Asian experience is different, mainstream media has only portrayed Indians in two ways: The Mindy Kalings and Devi Vishwakumars, or the fresh off the boat Rajesh from Big Bang Theory type of characters. None of these characters have been “just right” for me. Minhaj however, not bound by the role of a scripted character, was the most authentic. His anecdotes about the tendencies of an immigrant dad and casual Bollywood references mixed in with his love for old school rap and basketball were unusually comforting, and validated my experience as a first generation Indian American.
A new role model
At a more personal level, Minhaj’s work was a stimulus for change in the brown community. The show’s episode titled “We Cannot Stay Silent About George Floyd ” takes direct shots at the microaggressions within the South Asian community, referencing colorism and model minority behavior from many adults. The entire episode felt all too familiar. In Hasan’s sheer rage and frustration on screen, I saw what was bottled up inside me. While episodes like the BLM one were especially empowering, others, such as “Indian Elections,” served as an eye opener. Until the release of that episode, I prided myself in my knowledge of Indian politics, but to my surprise Minhaj drew parallels between India’s beloved Prime Minister Narendra Modi and American President Donald Trump. Growing up in a household that very much reveres the Prime Minister of India, the episode was my first look at Modi in a negative light. Over time the show has not only exposed me to new topics, but has also reshaped my existing perspectives on topics in which I thought I was well-versed.
While Minhaj moves on to bigger and better projects such as his own shoe line with Cole Haan or his new role on The Morning Show, I think it’s safe to say that his work on Patriot Act was one of a kind. There’s always going to be this sense of despair knowing that there may never be another show of its breed, but there’s also a newfound sense of anticipation for what the future of political comedy holds now that the bar has been raised so high.