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When Georgia’s Republican Sen. David Perdue mocked Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ name at an October rally for Donald Trump, his comments sparked an uproar. In fact, soon after the clip of him mispronouncing Harris’ name went viral, South Asians and allies rallied with a #MyNameIs online campaign featuring stars and politicians such as Daniel Dae Kim, Ilhan Omar, Michelle Kwan, Ken Jeong and more sharing the origins of their names in solidarity with Harris.
Now, thanks to Phenomenal Productions — launched by Meena Harris (niece of Kamala) and former Funny or Die executive producer and Enfranchisement Productions CEO Brad Jenkins — and the Indian American Impact Fund (IMPACT), the #MyNameIs campaign has been revived for a video that is part of a series slated to run ahead of the U.S. Senate runoff in Georgia on Jan. 5, where Purdue will face off again with Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff, and the state’s other senator, Republican Kelly Loeffler, will defend her seat against Democrat Raphael Warnock. If Democrats win both races, the Senate will be split 50-50, with VP-elect Harris casting the tie-breaking vote if necessary.
“It started from that viral internet campaign, and we’re just bringing it to life,” Jenkins tells The Hollywood Reporter of the video, which dropped Tuesday. “It’s great that we got Trump out, but as Asian Americans, as Americans, we have to sort of finish the job and ensure we have a Senate that can work with Joe Biden.”
“South Asian Americans helped build this country even though at times we’ve been pushed aside and put down or made into a punchline,” Nanjiani says at the top of the video. “In 2020, when our leaders insulted and disrespected us, they know exactly what they’re doing. And so do we.”
“Back in the day, I started going by Kal Penn to help get a job. And I’m happy to give Senator David Perdue some tips on finding a new one of his own,” Penn says in the video.
Other actors, including Sendhil Ramamurthy, Nik Dodani, Punam Patel, Aparna Nancherla, as well as AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) organizers in Georgia are shown reciting their names to not only empower the #MyNameIs campaign but encourage the over 100,000 South Asian American voters in Georgia to turn out for the runoff.
Jenkins says the video came together quickly after Perdue’s comments, with stars like Penn and Nanjiani immediately agreeing to come 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 says. “It was so infuriating at the moment, but it led to such a beautiful moment on the internet.”
Following Perdue’s comments, his communications director John Burke defended him by arguing that he “simply mispronounced” Harris’ name and “didn’t mean anything by it.” In the video, Nanjiani responds to the defense: “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.”
Jenkins explains that it’s been disheartening to see the Asian American community face a rise in hate crimes especially given Trump’s repeated references to the novel coronavirus using derogatory terms such as “Kung Flu” and the “China Virus.”
“It’s just unacceptable,” Jenkins says. ” I think that those kinds of political tactics of dividing the country or belittling a community should backfire in Georgia.” Indeed, he argues, there was a record turnout among AAPI voters in the presidential election, and those votes ultimately helped turn Georgia blue.
“South Asian and Asian American voters played a pivotal role in delivering Georgia to President-elect Biden and VP-elect Kamala Harris. 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 the IMPACT, Jenkins hopes the video will inspire and mobilize AAPI voters to not only vote again in Georgia but know their voices matter. He says the response to the video has been wonderful and that he’s seen emotional reactions given 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.
“You have to make content by the community, for the community,” he says. “I do think that when it comes to politics, when you put communities front and center, they are the main characters. You start to see just incredible conversion, and you start to see incredible inspiration, and people being motivated because they’re just not used to it. We’re not used to being the main characters in political advertising or in any kind of traditional political work. This year has been very historic in the investment that’s been made to reach this community, to reach Asian Americans, not just in Georgia, but across the country.”
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’s empowerment and believing that your voice matters.”
The video was produced by Phenomenal Productions along with Neil Makhija, Elle Kurata, Michael Moffo, Elizabeth Baquet and Jason Chappelle. Phenomenal Productions launched earlier this month to create videos, social content, and products for causes, nonprofits, foundations and companies.
Watch the video below.
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