On Jan. 13, Babe.net, a women’s news and lifestyle site, published the story of a woman who accused actor and comedian Aziz Ansari of inappropriate sexual behavior after a date the pair had last September. The article came out six days after Ansari won a Golden Globe for his Netflix comedy, “Master of None.” In the show, Ansari portrays a character who is unable to properly communicate in intimate scenarios in a way similar to Ansari’s publicized intimate night.
In the beginning of season two, Dev Shah, played by Ansari, moves to Italy to learn how to make pasta, and becomes close friends with an Italian woman named Francesca. Later, Francesca and her boyfriend, Pino, visit Dev in New York City.
While her boyfriend works, Francesca goes on adventures with Dev and he quickly develops feelings for her. After professing his love, Francesca admits that she has feelings for him, but she needs time to decide what to do as it is a difficult choice for her.
In the season finale, “Buona Notte,” Francesca’s internal struggle is centerstage. Dev desperately tries coaxing her to be with him. Since Francesca has to go back to Italy soon, every conversation revolves around the ultimatum: Pino or Dev.
In the Babe article, the woman under the anonymous name, “Grace,” recalls her distressing night with Ansari. In Grace’s account of the night, real-life Ansari established an atmosphere that was comprised of constant sexual activity. Every time she refused one sexual act, Ansari tried convincing her into another. Only after repeated attempts by Ansari at intercourse, the two sat on his couch to watch TV until Grace abruptly left out of sheer discomfort.
Similarly, in the beginning of “Buona Notte,” Dev kisses Francesca despite her wishes and she leaves without saying a word. Later, when Francesca tells him that she doesn’t want to hurt him, Dev accuses her of using him and asks her if she was being fair to him. Once again, she uncomfortably decides to leave.
As a champion for feminism and author of “Modern Romance,” a book on dating etiquette, Ansari has not shied away from discussing these issues. Yet, today Ansari sits in the same boat as his own character.
Following the article, Ansari released a statement describing how he misread her signals and that he still continues to support the cultural movement to recognize inappropriate sexual behavior. Upon later reflection, Ansari acknowledged that she was clearly uncomfortable.
For Dev, charm and quirkiness are what he uses to seduce women. In serious moments with Francesca, Dev cracks corny jokes. According to Grace, Ansari is guilty of the same issue. When he tried to push for sex, Grace responded with, “Next time.” In response, Ansari offered to pour her another glass of wine and count it as their second date.
The true parallel between this episode and Grace’s story is how crudely intimacy is built from seemingly nothing.
As the episode approaches its end, there is no direct communication between Dev and Francesca anymore. Dev makes a pro and con list about why they should be together. Meanwhile, with her boyfriend nearby, Francesca scrolls through pictures and videos of her and Dev. In the next scene, and after no on-screen communication between the two whatsoever, the episode unceremoniously ends with Dev and Francesca in bed together.
Is Ansari leaving the details of how this enormous leap happened up to the audience? Or is he simply incapable of stringing together the actions that lead two lovers into bed? Dev and Francesca were at odds with each other the entire episode. Yet the final scene indicates that flames suddenly emerged. The progression is puzzling and parallels the nature of Grace’s story.
Ansari consistently created a sudden resurgence of passion without explanation. Grace describes herself as “feeling uncomfortable at how quickly things escalated.” She complimented his marble countertops. And, as if by invitation, Ansari started kissing and undressing her within moments.
The depictions of sexual scenes on screen have the power to influence how a person expects sexual situations to develop in real life. But on screen, this type of encounter intensifies within seconds, leaving important initiations subject to the viewer’s imagination. Simple communication, like establishing verbal consent, isn’t part of this medium’s vocabulary.
Ansari is likely far from done in the entertainment business, so one can only wonder if his life will continue to imitate his art. As the world listens to more women share their stories of sexual assault, perhaps a shift in how society perceives intimate dialogues will change the way the it is developed in film and on television.