*This post of mine is published on CNN.*
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may have been all set to appear on and promote fellow Canadian star Lilly Singh’s new show, “A Little Late with Lilly Singh,” which debuted September 16. But the video appearance was swiftly canceled by NBC, reportedly after Trudeau’s blackface controversy, the surfacing of both photo and video examples of him wearing dark makeup to imitate an ethnicity not his own. The network added that it has no plans to invite him back on the show, which was the right decision. The Prime Minister did pre-record a “comedy” clip and wished Singh good luck on Twitter ahead of her first episode.
While the racism controversy is not good for the Canadian politician, it shines a positive light on the network and the YouTube sensation, Lilly Singh, who is the first woman of color, and the first openly bisexual woman, to host a late-night show on one of the four major networks. As a South Asian woman, to see Lilly Singh in mainstream American pop culture is huge for me. I am sure that I speak for many others when I say it’s invigorating and exciting to watch a woman whose appearance resembles mine on the screen because the sad truth is that even in 2019, it is still a rare sight. Lilly Singh’s show is more than just another late-night talk show. It’s a tangible, visual reminder of why representation matters.
Even before Trudeau’s fiasco, Singh’s presence on late night was a long overdue boost for people of color — and the intersection of the Prime Minister’s blackface scandal with Singh’s first week on the air just emphasizes how lucky we all are that she is there for us to watch and how important it is to hear from her.”Hello my name is Lilly, and I ain’t a white man/ My skin’s got some color and it ain’t a spray tan,” she rapped in the opening segment of her show’s premiere in which she also boasted that her “writers room look like a mini-United Nations, more than 50% women, and people of all races.” Singh assured her viewers that she will “throw some melanin up in your late night.”
But all jokes aside, Singh’s entry into the world of late-night, arguably the heart of America’s pop culture, is a big deal. It’s no secret that the scene has been dominated by white men since Johnny Carson in the 1970s and David Letterman and Jay Leno in the 1990s. Joan Rivers hosted “The Late Show” in 1986, but was out only a year later.
“An Indian-Canadian woman with her own late-night show?” Singh said when her show was announced in March. “Now that is a dream come true. I’m thrilled to bring it to life on NBC, and I hope my parents consider this to be as exciting as a grandchild.”She admitted that while “there’s a small part of me that’s like, ‘Is everyone going to like this?'” she’s focused on making “something that I think is good, that is authentic to me. That’s what has gotten me my success thus far.”And that success has been truly inspiring to see.
Watching Singh interview major stars and personalities such as Chelsea Handler and Tracee Ellis Ross, I beamed with pride for all my fellow South Asian women. In a way, it’s an affirmation that we, too have a place in society.”Has NBC ever had this many Indian women on at one time?” Mindy Kaling, fellow South Asian superstar, and one of Singh’s first guests, asked the TV host. “If I had, growing up, seen you on TV … to have had you, I mean, it’s huge. I can’t wait for the daughter to watch this show 20 years from now when you’re still doing it and you’re wishing you don’t have to.”
Kaling really hit the nail on the head. While it is a big deal for me and other South Asian women to have someone like Lilly Singh to look up to, it is that much more inspiring for my two young daughters to see someone who looks like them on TV. It’s something I never had nor could have imagined as a child.Although it is still too early to predict what the success of Lilly Singh’s show will be, “A Little Late” did debut with steady ratings in comparison to her late-night predecessor, Carson Daly. And no matter how everything plays out in the months to come, Singh has already made herstory.
“Regardless of what the outcome is, if I’m being super candid with you, it’s kind of not going to matter because it’s going to help continue to pave that path,” Singh said to PBS. “
And that’s what my priority is.”Maybe that is what all of our priorities should be as well.
*This post of mine is published on CNN.*