- The viral video features Kumail Nanjiani, Kal Penn, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Nik Dodani, Punam Patel, Aparna Nancherla and AAPI organizers in Georgia.
In the heat of general election campaigning, Senator David Perdue, who is currently running to retain his Georgia Senate seat, made a mockery of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ name, by deliberately mispronouncing it, irking many and earning him much derision. As soon as the clip went viral, members of the Asian American community — particularly the South Asian community — took to the social media in solidarity with Harris.
In response to Perdue’s “disrespectful” behavior, South Asians and their allies rallied and launched the #MyNameIs campaign, which featured actors, media figures and politicians like Hari Kondabolu, Daniel Dae Kim, Ilhan Omar, Ken Jeong, Lea Thompson, Maya Harris and others, who shared the origins of their names.
Now, as Georgia’s Senate runoff nears, Meena Harris (CEO and niece of California Senator and Vice President-elect Harris) and Brad Jenkins’ (former “Funny or Die” executive producer) Phenomenal Productions and the Indian American Impact Fund (IMPACT), revived the #MyNameIs Campaign for a new video that is part of series of Georgia voting videos aiming to bolster the #MyNameIs message, and mobilize AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) voters in the Peach State.
The video features comedians Kumail Nanjiani (“The Big Sick”), and Kal Penn (“Kal Penn Approves this Message”), along with actors Sendhil Ramamurthy (“Never Have I Ever”), Nik Dodani (“Atypical”), Punam Patel (“Special”), Aparna Nancherla (“Corporate”), and AAPI organizers in Georgia.
“It started from that viral internet campaign and we’re just bringing it to life,” Jenkins tells The Hollywood Reporter of the video that launched on Dec. 22. “It’s great that we got Trump out, but as Asian Americans, as Americans, we have to finish the job and ensure we have a Senate that can work with Joe Biden.”
Jenkins adds that the video came together quickly after Perdue’s comments with stars like Penn and Nanjiani immediately agreeing to be on board. “We were all united in that feeling of, ‘we’re not going to allow this guy to make the future Vice President of the United States feel like she was un-American because of her name,” Jenkins told The Hollywood Reporter. “It was so infuriating at the moment, but it led to such a beautiful moment on the internet.”
According to a recent report by United Nations officials, hate crimes against Asian Americans have reached an “alarming level” across the United States since 2016 due to the weaponizing effect of the “anti-immigrant” rhetoric being spewed by the Trump administration and supporters of it, like Sen. Perdue.
Members of the AAPI community, a rising voice in the political arena and a new emerging force in the 2020 elections, viewed these words as negatively impacting the community. Anti-immigrant sentiment saw a rise during the pandemic when outgoing president and former host of “The Celebrity Apprentice,” Donald Trump, constantly referred to the coronavirus as the “Kung Flu” and the “China Virus,” among other such examples.
The result: Asian Americans finally decided to take action. They showed up to the polls in record numbers causing the largest percentage increase of new AAPI voters in history. According to electoral pundits, the November 2020’s record Asian American voter participation helped deliver Georgia’s 16 electoral votes–and the U.S. presidency–to Joe Biden.
As Kumail Nanjiani says at the top of the video, “South Asian Americans helped build this country even though at times we’ve been pushed aside and put down or made into a punchline,” adding, “In 2020 when our leaders insulted and disrespected us, they know exactly what they’re doing. And so do we!”
Throughout the video, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Nik Dodani, Punam Patel, Aparna Nancherla, and AAPI organizers in Georgia could be seen reciting their names to not only empower the #MyNameIs campaign but encourage the over 100,000 eligible South Asian American voters in Georgia — who have emerged as a powerful and crucial voting bloc – to turn out for the consequential U.S. Senate runoff elections.
“Back in the day, I started going by Kal Penn to help get a job. And I’m happy to give Sen. David Perdue some tips on finding a new one of his own,” Kal Penn says in another moment on the video.
Following Perdue’s comments and the uproar that followed, Communications Director John Burke had tried to defend him and clean up the mess by arguing that he “simply mispronounced” Harris’ name and “didn’t mean anything by it.” In the video, Nanjiani responds by saying, “Well Senator while you simply mispronounced our names, we simply voted Donald Trump out of office. We simply registered millions of voters. We simply turned out in record numbers,” he quips. “But don’t worry Senator, we don’t mean anything by it.”
“It’s just unacceptable,” Jenkins tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I think that those kinds of political tactics of dividing the country or belittling a community should be backfired in Georgia.” He also explained that it was conspicuous that the South Asian and Asian American community aimed to take a stand and any hateful comments made by leaders “completely backfired.”
“An additional 42,000 AAPI voters voted in 2020 over 2016 and more than 30,000 AAPI voters voted for the first time ever. Biden won Georgia by just over 14,000 votes. But the work isn’t finished yet,” IMPACT wrote on their website. “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris need Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the Senate so they can make progress on everything from making healthcare more affordable to addressing climate change.”
As Jenkins and Harris join forces with IMPACT, Jenkins hopes the video will inspire and mobilize AAPI voters to not only vote again in Georgia and make history once again, but also realize that their voices matter. He explains to The Hollywood Reporter, that the response to the video has been wonderful and admits he’s seen emotional reactions as the video puts the community “front and center” which is a feat in itself given the lack of representation among the community whether it be in the entertainment industry or politics.
Though the video is encouraging voter turnout in Georgia for Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, Jenkins says Phenomenal Productions and IMPACT are “trying to uplift” communities to vote overall. “It is empowerment and believing that your voice matters.”
Phenomenal Productions’s Meena Harris and Brad Jenkins produced the video along with Neil Makhija, Elle Kurata, Michael Moffo, Elizabeth Baquet, and Jason Chappelle.
Anu Ghosh immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1999. Back in India she was a journalist for the Times of India in Pune for 8 years and a graduate from the Symbiosis Institute of Journalism and Communication. In the U.S., she obtained her Masters and PhD. in Communications from The Ohio State University. Go Buckeyes! She has been involved in education for the last 15 years, as a professor at Oglethorpe University and then Georgia State University. She currently teaches Special Education at Oak Grove Elementary. She is also a mom to two precocious girls ages 11 and 6.