Up until a few years ago, all South Asians could claim for entertainment representation was The Simpsons’ Apu Nahasapeemapetilon – not a real last name, btw. While things are changing for the better, with more South Asian faces on film and screen, it’s online where the South Asian community, or Desi Twitter as we call it, can really find their voices. This is where South Asians get to bond over strict Desi parents, our collective love for biryani, and our collective rage over why everyone else can’t stop saying chai tea or naan bread when they essentially mean the same thing. We have our big beauty bloggers– Farah Dhukai and Nabela Noor, comedy YouTubers – Lilly Singh, Liza Koshy and JusReign, and insanely talented mash-up singers – VidyaVox. But the biggest influencers are the South Asians stars and actors that Desi twitter can’t seem to get enough of. Here’s a handy list of the biggest names who have us hanging on to their every word on social media.
Priyanka Chopra: Before she took over Hollywood, becoming the first South Asian actor to headline a major network drama with Quantico, Priyanka Chopra was (and still is) a Bollywood superstar. She worked in over 60 blockbuster movies, cut music albums, became the most followed Indian on Twitter and then moved to the US to produce a show casting herself as its lead. Since then, Chopra has been busy starring in the Baywatch reboot alongside Zac Effron and Dwayne ‘Rock’ Johnson and has major upcoming projects with two Chrises (Hemsworth and Pratt). Even before her stop-the-presses engagement with Nick Jonas, which caused a social media meltdown in both India and the US, PeeCee as her fans know her, caught constant media attention with her well-informed perspectives on being a brown woman in America.
IG: 27.8m Twitter: 23.2m
Mindy Kaling: There are a few reasons that a list filled with South Asian faces on American TV and film can now exist and one of them is Mindy Kaling. The OG South Asian woman on TV, Kaling wrote, starred in and later produced the beloved comedy, The Office. Her recurring role as the narcissistic Kelly Kapoor, a far cry from the muted wallpaper of South Asian women depicted on TV (if we saw them at all), remains a huge fan favorite even years after the show has ended. Soon after, she produced and starred in the groundbreaking The Mindy Project, playing a quirky rom-com loving, Ob-Gyn — another first for a South Asian woman on TV. She has since produced and starred in NBC’s Champions and has a major role in the upcoming Ocean’s 13 along with Rihanna and Anne Hathaway. We also love this new mom’s Instagram for her adorable baby food recipes, workout fails and red carpet fashion, where she regularly interacts with fans and supports up and coming South Asian talent.
IG: 3.4m Twitter: 11.9m
Thanks to our KL guests for some enlightening conversations we probably couldn’t have had a few weeks ago! 🇲🇾🎬 pic.twitter.com/tQJFuhLxSZ
— Kal Penn (@kalpenn) June 26, 2018
Kal Penn: There was a time in the late 90s and early 2000s when South Asian actors routinely played sidekicks or comic relief to the lead (mostly white) actor. And Kal Penn played almost all of them. It changed somewhat only in 2004 when he starred in Harold and Kumar, one of the biggest Asian comedy franchises, with Jon Cho. While Penn has since continued acting with popular roles in series like House and How I Met Your Mother, he was also the Associate Director for Public Engagement at the White House during the Obama administration. Even after moving on from that role, Penn has consistently used social media to speak for human rights and the unfair and racist typecasting of South Asians in Hollywood. In 2017, when a racist troll told him that he didn’t “belong in this country,” he used that comment to raise over $160K for refugees in Syria. He is soon coming out with his own book of essays.
Twitter: 599K IG: 137K
Gonna repost this every time I see another motherfucking flat tummy co advert. EVERYONE NEEDS TO STOP LYING AND ADMIT THEY HAVE PERSONAL TRAINERS, CHEFS, NUTRITIONISTS AND OFTEN SURGEONS AND LASER THERAPISTS TO GET BODIES THEY TELL YOU ARE FROM THIS NON FDA APPROVED BULLSHIT! https://t.co/DBAZSJnIIc
— Jameela Jamil (@jameelajamil) September 19, 2018
Jameela Jamil: This British-South Asian radio and television presenter was known for speaking her mind and standing up for women even before her stint as Tahani-Al-Jamil in the hit sitcom, The Good Place. Contrary to her role as the out-of –touch British heiress on TV, in real life Jamil has been dubbed as the social media vigilante women need. After struggling with anorexia as a teen, and recovering from a spine-crushing accident, Jamil is an outspoken advocate for body positivity. She has consistently called out the Kardashian sisters for promoting weight loss supplements and even started “I Weigh”, a user generated Instagram account where people describe how and why they ‘weigh’ more than their bodies or appearances.
IG: 365K Twitter: 325K
Tan France: Born to Pakistani parents in England, Tan France is one of the Fab Five from the breakout hit of the season, Queer Eye. As the stylist on the show, where five gay men help a participant make over different areas of their life, France is known for his empathetic and body positive makeovers. While relatively new in the American spotlight, France is already working with SNL’s Pete Davidson and writing a forthcoming memoir. On the show, he often talks about growing up gay in a Pakistani household in England and how that helped shape his identity. His Instagram is a refreshing mix of real life moments and style-inspo, which he also uses to engage with fans and the rest of the Queer Eye cast.
IG: 2m Twitter: 306K
When it comes to social media, it’s not always about the biggest numbers. While each of these celebrities has a huge following, what makes their social media shine is constant engagement. Apart from promoting their upcoming projects, they come across as real people who constantly speak to their followers. And that, in our opinion, is what turns a celebrity with a social media into a valuable influencer
Written by Yashica Dutt
Associate Creative Director