Growing up in predominantly white areas, I searched for people who looked like me in the media, only to be met with the typical token South Asian character with the same personality and characteristics as every other stereotypical South Asian.
For many years, the only South Asian representations I noticed were characters such as Baljeet from “Phineas and Ferb”, or Ravi from “Jessie”, however, they were depicted as stereotypical Indians with thick accents. In recent years, we have had characters such as Devi from “Never Have I Ever”, Kingo from Marvel’s hit movie, “Eternals”, and Kate from “Bridgerton.” Yet for the most part, the characterization of South Asian characters, especially Indian characters, are heavily influenced by stereotypes, which I like to call the “Mindy Kaling Effect.”
Mindy Kaling, an Indian-American actress, producer, and screenwriter, has been in shows such as “The Office” and “The Mindy Project”, and has produced shows such as “Never Have I Ever”, “The Sex Lives of College Girls”, and more recently, “Velma”. In her shows, Kaling tends to characterize her female Indian lead as white-boy crazy, nerdy, and possesses a lot of internalized racism, resulting in no acceptance of their culture. A lot of dialogue and issues focus on the lead character not believing they are at the same level or pretty as their white female counterparts, resenting their background, and attempting to hide this part of themselves.
However, it is not always a bad thing to depict characters this way. Many people (myself included), relate and see parts of themselves in these characters. For example, Devi from “Never Have I Ever” has an incredibly similar experience to many other Indian girls’ experiences, but when she (and her type casted part) is the only South Asian representation available, it tends to do more harm than good. This further pushes the narrative that being Indian comes hand-in-hand with being embarrassing or weird, and thus plays into harmful stereotypes, especially for young girls.
Characters such as Kate and Edwina from “Bridgerton” and Cece from “New Girl” are good representations of Indian girls without the forced and unnecessary stereotypes, but that doesn’t mean we should stop there. Mindy Kaling has created a model character based off of herself who she casts and writes into her shows, but this is simply Kaling’s style. South Asians are starved for representation in the media, and Kaling cannot be solely responsible for telling the story of all South Asians.
Check out this article for more about the “Velma” controversy: https://www.hercampus.com/school/cu-boulder/the-problem-with-velma-and-diversity-in-shows/