“Schitt’s Creek” emerged from 2020 as one of the year’s most beloved and critically acclaimed sitcoms. But one character, a South Asian man, gave viewers pause.
Fans of the show have taken issue with “Schitt’s Creek” resident Ray Butani, an eccentric businessman who runs a real estate-travel-photography enterprise. Butani, one of the few non-White characters on the show, speaks with an accent and, according to some viewers, plays into stereotypes of South Asian men.
But the Indian-Canadian actor who plays Ray, Rizwan Manji, said in an interview with the Toronto Star that he came up with the character’s accent on his own, and he didn’t think his characterization was offensive.
“It is a very slight Indian accent — somebody who was probably raised in Canada, but probably was born in India or Pakistan,” he told the paper. “I don’t regret that because I think it actually works for Ray. He wasn’t like everybody else in that town. He was from somewhere else.”
When he was cast in “Schitt’s Creek,” Manji said, producers gave him free rein to develop Ray — there was no direction on if he had an accent. At a table read, he tried out an accent similar to one he’d performed in a previous role. Dan Levy, the show’s star and co-creator, approved, Manji said.
Manji said he’s avoided taking offensive parts, though in the beginning of his career, those are nearly all he was offered. He’d only get offers for characters like cab drivers or convenience store employees, and he was always asked to play them with a thick accent, he told the Star.
“It was very strictly, like, the joke was on the accent,” Manji said.
Manji said that while around 60% of his roles have involved using accents, he only employs them when he feels they’re necessary to the character.
Some critics told the Star that they felt that Manji’s characterization was still playing into the expectations of White audiences and showrunners. For a show that prides itself on inclusivity — Levy’s character is in a relationship with a man for much of the series and marries him in the finale — the role of Ray felt like a slight.
In a statement to the Star, Levy praised Manji’s portrayal of Ray and the choices Manji made, which Levy emphasized were not asked of him by producers.
“All characters on our show were created with love, respect and humanity,” Levy said. “It has been gratifying to have these intentions reflected through the overwhelming audience support for these characters. That said, I welcome any perspectives that encourage conversations about diversity, especially in entertainment.”
“Schitt’s Creek” won nine Emmys in 2020, which Levy and other cast members, including Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy, accepted at a socially distanced viewing party in Toronto. Manji, who’s based in Los Angeles, cheered them on virtually.