White Actor Is Haunted by His Racial Appropriation in One of 1986's Biggest Hits

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

If you’re like me, you love a good 80’s flick.

But if you’re like Fisher Stevens, you cringe at at least one.

The star of hits such as Hackers and TV’s The Blacklist, Fisher’s bedeviled by his most famous film.

Many of you no doubt recall Short Circuit, the 1986 gem about a woman and her robot pal.

The movie had all the necessary elements for box office gold: sci-fi tech, Ally Sheedy, Police Academy’s Steve Guttenberg, and a fantastic song courtesy of El DeBarge.

Relive the magic:

But for Fisher, it’s a bit of hocus puke-us: He’s sick over his involvement.

The Chicago native’s character, Ben Jabituya, was Indian.

And he, as you may know, is not.

Speaking to Yahoo Entertainment, the self-described “white Jewish kid” expressed agony:

“It definitely haunts me.”


In his defense, it was a bit of bait and switch:

According to Stevens, Ben wasn’t an Indian character when he first auditioned for the John Badham-directed film… “I was originally cast as a white dude,” he recalls of how his character initially appeared in S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock’s script.

Blame it on ambition:

[A]fter winning the role, the movie’s creative team made the choice to change Ben’s ethnicity without changing the identity of the performer playing him. As a young actor eager for that elusive breakout role, Stevens didn’t want to walk away. “They rewrote it, and were like, ‘Can you play it?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I can do it. Let me learn.’ It’s a weird thing when you’re 21 and you’re trying to get a job.”

As you’re likely aware, white actors playing characters of other races — or, in some cases, people portraying people of other types — is increasingly condemned.

Last June, boob tube biggie The Simpsons announced it would replace all its white actors who’d been posing in nonwhite parts.

Per The Hollywood Reporter, there were quite a few:

[Hank Azaria]…voices Carl Carlson and Springfield police officer Lou, who are Black, and Hispanic character Bumblebee Man. Harry Shearer, meanwhile, has played Dr. Hibbert, who’s Black, for the show’s entire run. Tress MacNeille has also voiced several non-White characters, including (Indian-American immigrant and Kwik-E-Mart owner) Apu’s wife, Manjula.

And not only did actor Hank Azaria step down from voicing Indian clerk Apu, he was replaced in his former role of gay Cuban character Julio…by gay Cuban actor Tony Rodriguez.


For Apu — like Fisher — Hank feels horrible.

Last month, he told Armchair Expert podcast host Dax Shepherd, “I apologize for my part in creating that and participating in that. Part of me feels I need to go round to every single Indian person in this country and apologize.”

“I really didn’t know any better,” he said. “I didn’t think about it. I was unaware of how much relative advantage I had received in this country as a white kid from Queens.”

But Americans aren’t the only ones getting pummeled for playing someone different than themselves.

In December, British actor James Corden was wringed for his participation in Netflix’s The Prom.

He’d portrayed a gay character — and, as it turns out, he’s not.

The Telegraph’s Tim Robey repined:

In a cast full of talented queer actors in the younger parts, it’s a massive problem to have Corden in gay-face front and center, trying his utmost to own Barry’s tragic experience of leaving home as an unloved 16-year-old.

Back to the 80’s, Fisher must feel doubly bad: He also played Short Circuit’s Indian Ben in the sequel.

Nonetheless, all this misrepresentation — by Fisher, Hank, and others — is small potatoes.

I think you know where I’m going…

When do we get the real apology — from actor C. Thomas Howell?

Thomas headed up a hit starring Leslie Nielsen, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and James Earl Jones — the same year as Short Circuit.

Surely Generation Z would short-circuit just from the trailer:

Meanwhile, it seems Fisher’s trying to make up for his culturally calamitous past.

The 57-year-old recently directed Justin Timberlake in Apple TV+’s sociopolitical Palmer:



See more pieces from me:

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Find all my RedState work here.

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