When Maitreyi Ramakrishnan auditioned for the role of Devi on Never Have I Ever amongst 15,000 other applicants, little did she know about the impact she'd have on South Asian viewers around the world. Being South Asian myself, I've always struggled with thinking that there's something off about the way that I look, because there were no lead characters on TV that looked like me. Devi's character was able to give me and countless other young women and girls hope that South Asian faces can be more than just one-dimensional characters for a change – they can be the star of the show.
For Ramakrishnan, Never Have I Ever was just the beginning. Today, she's fighting for representation not just on TV, but in gaming as well. "Being a gamer of color, sometimes it's hard to adjust your avatar to look exactly like you," says Ramakrishnan. Her newest partnership with Gillette Venus focuses on changing exactly that. In honor of National Beach Day, Ramakrishnan will be joining Venus to host a virtual "Skinclusive Summer Social" event on Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Venus, along with designer Nicole Cuddihy, will be showcasing 19 downloadable custom designs that help players not just customize their skin tone, but also takes into account their different skin types and skin conditions. Here, Ramakrishnan talks more about her love for gaming and what she's been up to this quarantine.
Animal Crossing is more than just a pastime
IN OTHER OTHER NEWS! After months of whacking Cousteau with my net he has FINALLY DECIDED TO LEAVE!! Adios cheese frog!?? pic.twitter.com/6oHJ0QvyqP
— Maitreyi Ramakrishnan (@ramakrishnannn) July 8, 2020
Ramakrishnan has been a lover of Animal Crossing since she was 8-years-old. "I'll always love the older versions because of nostalgia," she laughs. But even though the older versions of the game hold a special place in her heart, she finds there's much more to do in New Horizons. Including, as it turns out, changing the game when it comes to diversity and inclusivity.
Her love for gaming, and Animal Crossing specifically, is what got her interested in partnering with Gillette in the first place. "It was like bringing my two passions together, Animal Crossing and inclusivity," she says. She's looking forward to interacting with other gamers during the virtual event, and hopes to open up a conversation about inclusivity in gaming with them. "I love the idea of celebrating National Beach Day on something like Animal Crossing, especially during quarantine. We're all apart right now, so this is a fun way to hang out together and talk about inclusivity, which is something I really care about," she adds.
Apart from keeping busy playing Animal Crossing, she's also been trying out some new games. One of her new favorites is Paper Mario: The Origami King.
Advocating for diversity matters in all media, not just on screen
Ramakrishnan has been very vocal about her stance on diversity ever since Never Have I Ever aired. "When I was younger, I didn't have any characters on TV that really spoke to me; there was no character that ever looked like me," she says. "It feels like you're living your life in the shadows because you only see caucasian characters out there." Her passion for representation was ignited when she first started acting in Never Have I Ever, where she noticed that there were only a few actors in the entertainment industry who looked like her. It felt like the shows and movies she watched growing up had made her immune. "I felt like I had just accepted that the majority of the characters had to be white, but that shouldn't be the case," she emphasizes.
Now, she hopes that shows like Never Have I Ever push for a positive change in Hollywood, because, "Nobody should feel like they're not represented." But her passion for inclusivity runs deeper than that. She hopes to change the meaning of representation in all forms of media, gaming included. She adds, "It really sucks when you're a gamer of color or have a skin condition, but you can't just adjust your avatar to show that. You can't just make it look like you."
Returning to set one day - safely!
Right now, Ramakrishnan is practicing social distancing along with the rest of her cast. "We're waiting on Never Have I Ever season 2. I, personally, and the cast and crew don't want to rush into filming – we want to make sure that it's as safe as possible when we do," she says. She can't wait to reprise her role of Devi, though!
She knew right from the start that acting was something she wanted to do. "Even walking out of that first audition room, I didn't even care if I got the part, I was just happy to have that experience." But knowing that's what she wanted didn't calm her nerves. "A part of me, before I started filming, worried that, 'Oh my god, what if I hate it and I'm super miserable?' but thankfully that was not the situation at all. That was my overthinking brain talking!"
She also emphasizes that sometimes her need to be a perfectionist got in the way of her acting on set. "Thankfully, I had my mom on set with me. Sometimes when I was too into work I'd forget to eat or chill out for a second, and it was nice to have my mom look after me or pass me a little snack!"
We don't yet have a tentative release date for season 2, but if you can't wait to hang out with Ramakrishnan again, make sure to sign up for the "Skinclusive Summer Social" event on Animal Crossing on Monday, August 31st at 7 P.M. via YouTube Live.