As 2019 winds up, Lowy Institute staff and Interpreter contributors offer their favourite books, articles, films, or TV programs this year.
A comedian with a keen eye for the ridiculous, Hasan Minhaj could not have plotted a more paradoxical situation. Sitting outside the “Howdy Modi” (yes really) stadium event in Texas earlier this year after being refused entry, he watched the proceedings from a massive screen – only to see his own face. Inside, at the event best described as a Modi-meets-Trump rally, he was being hailed as an Indian American success story, despite the fact that a short time earlier, he had been unceremoniously told he was not welcome.
The scene appeared on Minhaj’s Netflix comedy series Patriot Act, and is perhaps the most talked about moment in a series that is making waves for tackling serious issues in an incisive, yet accessible way. Patriot Act is a stand-up comedy series presented as a series of “explainers”, a bitingly satirical, sometimes subversive, deep dive into topical issues.
The 34-year-old Californian born to Muslim Indian parents is currently one of the most prominent faces in the overwhelmingly successful and increasingly politically engaged Indo-US diaspora, of which I’ve written about before on The Interpreter. Since his Netflix series launched in 2018, Minhaj has been incredibly prolific, turning out five seasons, and a total of 32 half-hour episodes. Topics include the role of Amazon in the US economy, immigration enforcement, censorship in China, Indian elections, the dark side of the video games industry, and billionaires. The Howdy Modi event was in one of the most recent episodes, “Don’t Ignore the Asian Vote in 2020’” which aired on 8 December, and clips are running hot on social media.
Despite the wide remit, Patriot Act is, however, a show aimed squarely at a niche audience, with Minhaj speaking predominantly to his Asian-American millennial audience, tackling topical issues that are often directly relevant to them. For a show in the mould of The Daily Show (Minhaj is an alum), it is a refreshing take: to see issues presented that are directly relatable to your own lived experience is something that can be quite rare, and is very welcome.