Kumail Nanjiani: A photographer at the Spirits said ‘Welcome to America’ to me


The day before the Oscars, all of the movie stars traipsed down to a tent in Santa Monica for the annual Independent Spirit Awards. It was actually a really nice awards show to watch. Past Spirit Awards have been MC’d by national treasure John Waters, who is like the Billy Crystal of the Spirits, but this year’s hosts were the wonderful Kate McKinnon and Kumail Nanjiani, a hilarious comedian and actor. Nanjiani is best known (by me) for his role in the ensemble comedy Silicon Valley. Nanjiani is Pakistani-American, and he made jokes about himself and his background during the Spirit Awards. But something unfortunate happened on the red carpet of the Spirits. Here’s what went down, via Nanjiani’s Twitter:

I hate this. This actually makes me feel sick to my stomach. I hate racism or micro-aggression or passive-aggression or whatever you want to call it. For some photographer to be that big of an a—hole to the guy who is CO-HOSTING the Spirit Awards… Jesus. That stuff has happened to me too (I’m half-Indian, and I was born and raised in America). I’ve had people come up to me and say that they’re “surprised” I don’t speak with an accent. I’ve had people compliment me on my English. I’ve never had anyone say “welcome to America” but I can see exactly how small and bullied that would make anyone feel.

Nanjiani also tweeted this during the Oscars:


PS… Here’s the bit that Nanjiani and McKinnon did during the Spirit Awards that KILLED inside the tent. Cate Blanchett was crying from laughter at this Carol spoof.


Photos courtesy of WENN.

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40 Responses to “Kumail Nanjiani: A photographer at the Spirits said ‘Welcome to America’ to me”

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  1. MummaDugg says:

    Racial profiling sux.

    • Bluebear says:

      I’m sorry, complete sidenote, but did anybody else really get confused by that video? I swore the entire time I was watching it that that was Elizabeth Banks. I have never seen this Kate McKinnon person before in my entire life but she looks and sounds and moves exactly like Elizabeth Banks! Has Hollywood gotten so bad now that we’ve just started duplicating white people?

  2. NewWester says:

    The extent that people will go to be rude or ignorant constantly shocks me. No person deserves to be treated like that

    • tegteg says:

      This. Who thinks it’s okay to treat another person like that? The guy was probably white, too… which, as a white person, makes me sad/mad/ashamed. We’re all human beings and we’ve got to work together. This white vs all the other races bullsh*t has got to stop. I just don’t understand how it’s still happening in this day and age. It really makes me sick.

      • joan says:

        I’ve loved Kumail since I saw him on Conan as a random standup, and it’s been great to see him hosting the Awards and in that hilarious video with Kate M.

        So it’s sad to hear that someone would say something so stupid to the co-host of the show. Or to anyone. Loved his comments about it. That’s what makes him a great comedian — his honesty.

    • Lucy2 says:

      Seriously, that photographer didn’t need to say anything beyond congratulations and good luck hosting.
      I wonder if they were trying to get a rise out of him for attention. So gross.

  3. Margo S. says:

    I love this guy. I’m so upset that that photog said that. Not only the fact that he said welcome to America, but the fact that he said it in front of a bunch of people. That’s so rude! Who raised you?! What people should do is if you hear someone saying a racist, micro-aggressive comments to someone (whether to do with race/religion/sexual orientation) speak up! Many times the recipient is so shocked that they freeze. That type of behavior is unacceptable. I know own many of us have zero time for close minded people.

    • MC2 says:

      I totally agree with the speaking up part! I have been in situations and seen someone being treated similarly and noticed that the person is shocked, mouth open & not sure what to do. It’s a shocking, jarring situation & I think people forget that. I think it’s the responsibility for others to speak up & publicly shame the racist, sexist, etc person like they are trying to shame the person. Others speaking up and saying “oh hell no!” is the thing that will make this change. I saw a man belittle & actually throw things at a young woman at a sports game and everyone turned and stared at her to see her reaction while the guy started slithering away in the crowd. I said “oh hell no!” and yelled, pointed at the man and said he should be ashamed of himself and that was not right. Then the crowd looked to him and his face turned red. It wasn’t much but I hope he was, rightfully, ashamed. I would have said more but I had my young son with me (who I talked to later about speaking up when seeing someone bullied, harassed, victimized, etc) I was so upset that out of a hundred people witnessing this I was the only one who spoke up- grrr….People came up to me afterward and said “good job” but I wish I wasn’t the only one standing up to this douche & with my son no less.

  4. ell says:

    disgusting. i hate when people pretend racism is not a thing anymore, have you left your bubble recently??

    can’t wait for silicon valley to come back btw.

  5. GoodNamesAllTaken says:

    That seems almost intentional, or was the photographer really that clueless?

    • The Eternal Side-Eye says:

      Nah, he wanted a reaction. 5x repeating it? Yeah, repulsive.

      • Div says:

        It’s definitely intentional. A friend of mine works behind the scenes and sometimes attends events and that sort of thing. She says some of the nastier photographs (usually though it is less “real” photographers and more paps) will sometimes make racist/homophobic/sexual comment towards celebrities in an attempt to get a reaction (or call out the name of their kid if they’ve taken the kid with them to a premiere, after party, etc).. Apparently they don’t straight up call them a slur, so it’s more lowkey, but it is still bigoted and awful.

  6. Bishg says:

    Cate is a good sport! I am sure she was laughing her ass off.
    I love Kate McKinnon, she’s so talented.
    Didn’t know Kumail’s work before seeing him in this spoofs, I will definitely check him out.

  7. vauvert says:

    I would have been livid, and with good reason. In fact I have been livid, in similar situations, and I am white. Sometimes people have asked where I was from, to try and identify my very vague accent, and after living in various countries on two continents I actually have trouble answering. So I tell them my country of birth, adding that my accent also contains a bit of Quebec, a bit of West Coast and traces of Britishness. What gets funny is when they compliment me on my English. I guess they are trying to be nice, but to me it’s insulting. I have been fluent since ten, have a grad degree, I am a published bloody writer. My English, thankyouverymuch, is better than that spoken by many natural born Canadians and Americans (I got this all the time when I lived in Seattle and SF). So yeah…
    But I also feel his anger because I had to walk out of a dinner once (this was in Idaho, not that I am suggesting everyone living there is a racist), when a couple I was having a business meal with were extolling their “nice” neighbourhood, with no blacks or immigrants. I guess they had missed my accent…. Told them that as an immigrant I’d go sit somewhere else and not ruin the neighbourhood at the table.

    • TheGrandSophy says:

      I completely hear you Vauvert.

      At the risk of generalising, I think that it’s a fairly common occurance in western countries with a dominant Caucasian population. Most times, I don’t think that it’s really done with any real malice, but just from a really ignorant viewpoint that is unable to perceive the distinction between nationality/culture/race/religion and assumes that there is homogeneity where there may be none.

      I have brown skin and when asked what my nationality is, I reply that I’m Australian. Cue looks of confusion and befuddlement. Most times they let it pass, but sometimes it’s followed up by a ‘No, really, what’s your nationality?’, which annoys the heck out of me, because what they are really implying is that your nationality can only be Australian if you are white. What I really want to say in response is ‘My nationality is Australian, the same as yours…do you mean to ask what my ethnicity is dumba*se?’

      And these assumptions aren’t exclusive to any ethnic background. I was at uni years ago in a class looking at the educational needs of Aboriginal students and how best to cater for them and we got to discussing mother tongues etc. The tutor (non-Caucasian) asked if anyone spoke another language at home. No one responded, so he asks me (only non-Caucasian student in that particular class) if I spoke another language at home. Really? Why single me out of an entire class? What could possibly make you assume that my mother tongue wasn’t English (which it is)? And he too had the gall to look disbelieving when I told him we spoke English and followed that up with ‘Oh really?’

      Going to a country town 3 hours away from where I live and replying ‘Perth’ to the where are you from question. Again, slightly confused looks. Sigh.

      Let me emphasise though, that these incidents have been few and far between in my 41 years here, which is probably why I remember them so clearly. Lest I sound too ranty, I’ll say that I love my country and am a proud Australian who wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I wouldn’t even label these incidents as racist, just ignorant. Certainly nothing compared to the overt racism I faced in Singapore when working there. But let’s not go there.

      I just ignore people like the photographer in the article and those I’ve mentioned above. The questions/comments just indicate very clearly to me that they are quite ignorant and somewhat small-minded despite the travelling they may or may not have done. Definitely not individuals I’d like to know in any great depth.

      Geez. I’ve worn myself out writing such a long post. I need a drink.

      • Scotchy says:

        I am a mixie Canadian and have been asked the ” where are you from” to which I reply Canada all the time. Of course the question presses on because Canadians are all white of course… This drives me crazy.. so now I don’t respond. .

        Ugh.. humans are so dumb sometimes..

    • Farhi says:

      Lol, it happens a lot to me – “Where are you from? I love your accent”. I know the people are just trying to be nice and polite and strike up the conversation.

      What they don’t realize is that I’ve been trying to lose my “lovely” accent for 20 years now, with some ups and downs and it is barely there now. But I don’t particularly like being reminded of my failure . ))

  8. Patricia says:

    As soon as this actor opens his mouth I’m laughing. I’ve seen him in several things, he is seriously funny with perfect comedic timing. I think he will go far.

    What a shame his night was marred by some ignoramus. I have a friend who’s parents are Indian, from India. He was born in NJ. He doesn’t have a glimmer of an Indian accent yet people will still ask him “where are you originally from?” He’s like “uh… Cape May, NJ?”. People are so rude.

  9. CornyBlue says:

    I adore this guy. He retweeted me once and I am seriously considering getting it framed.
    I know its not all Americans but a hell of a lot of Americans are disgusting. Their white saviour complex gives me the creeps.

  10. Nev says:

    What a jackass.

  11. The Eternal Side-Eye says:

    The ignorance and desire to feel superior from some people never stops shocking me, even as I try to numb myself to it.

    In many cases I feel like what’s happening in this country confirms what I’ve always felt but there’s nothing I can do about that. I’m certain the photographer wanted a reaction and to get proof of knocking him down a few pegs.

    Probably annoyed this brown guy was doing better than him.

    • Naya says:

      Yep, he was trying to assert his “superiority” over Kumail by declaring him an outsider. If I were Kumail I would have whipped out my last few IRS payments with a haughty, “Welcome? I own this town, bitch”.

    • Marty says:

      How can we numb ourselves to it? It’s such a common occurrence for so many PoC, you would think we could, but someone’s always there to make us feel less.

  12. Ms. Lib says:

    Thank you Kaiser for telling it like it is.
    I love Kumail. He played Pindar on Franklin and Bash!

  13. K says:

    Inexcusable. I have heard that the camera people say horrible things to get a reaction whigh is so wrong just snap their picture and or better yet when not at an event leave them alone.

    I also liked his tweet during the Oscars. This guy is very talented and smart and should be celebrated for his work disrespected and attacked.

    No one should seriously it is not difficult to live by the golden rule and treat people the way you want to be treated. It’s just not hard!!!

  14. Sarah01 says:

    Racism is at its height in America with Trump and his dumb and dumber masses, it just bringing all the ugly out. News is not showing hardly any of the racist attacks occurring.
    It really gets me mad when someone thinks they can put you down because of the way you look, your colour, your status, your gender or your culture.
    We have decided we are leaving and moving to a less volatile environment with way less stupidity.
    As I’ve mentioned before we are a multi racial family and have suffered from racism.

  15. Colette says:

    Well when President Trump takes office some groups won’t be “welcome” in America.
    #Vote or Trump

    • Eve says:

      I’m not that into American elections news…I stopped watching CNN international as soon as the refugee crisis started being front and center of every single news report (because it breaks my heart and my massive depressive heart has already been broken by events close to myself).

      So…can anyone tell me if THERE IS a chance of Trump being the next president of the most powerful nation in the world?

      Should I start building my bunker?

      • Sarah01 says:

        People first dismissed him as a joke, believe me I’m not laughing and neither are a lot of people. He’s the front runner for the republican presidential candidate and Hilary is the looking to be the same for the democrats. I don’t want either as they’ll only cater to the elite ( nothing new).
        So we are in the process of moving to a nice clean, friendly socialist country.
        Get your bunker ready!

      • Eve says:

        Duly noted.

  16. Bluesky says:

    Kaiser, I’m with you. I’m African American with a Masters degree but people still look at me in wonderment that I can string a sentence together and articulate a point. This is what I hear “Oh you are so smart!” Like its a compliment.

  17. OhDear says:

    You know the photographer would never have said that to someone like, say, Marion Cotillard,

  18. kri says:

    Oh my god. What an ass. Kumail is way more chill than I would be. I adore him. He is so funny. And btw, lovely to look at.

  19. word says:

    Yeah I had this old white lady say to me “how do you like our country?”. Uhhhh…I just smiled. I remember as a kid we had this neighbor that was Italian. He could barely speak English. Yet, he would always yell to us “go back to where you came from!”. Those are the only English words he knew it seemed. Buddy, we could say the same to you ! But we knew better and just ignored him.

  20. Susan says:

    Thank you for that video! I hadn’t heard about the Carol spoof before but it was hilarious. So well done.

  21. Deevia says:

    My first year in the U.S (AR): “why is your grade in English better than mine?”

    Someone I went on several dates with “You are so beautiful like a white boy”

    And favorite trick of the white kids is to make sure I’m invisible to the conversation VERY subtle. Or just blatantly move to another table.

  22. char says:

    As a brown American, I have come across people saying ignorant comments like “oh, you speak great English.” I have learned to reply, “YOU have great English as well, what part of Europe are you from?” You have to remind ignorant people that if everyone is from what their phenotype shows, then “whites” are European.