Okay, so I’m a little over a year late. But I was talking with some friends about representation of Asian American women in the media, and how powerful it is to be able to see parts of ourselves in stories of film and television. Naturally, Netflix’s hit series Never Have I Ever stumbled into our discussion. Produced by Mindy Kaling, this rom-com following Devi Vishwakumar as she attempts to navigate herself through high school gave me a bit of whiplash when I first saw it pop up. A show about a Desi-American teenage girl? A lead character who looked kind of like me, thick hair, brown skin, and all?
I’ll admit: I was lucky enough to grow up on Bollywood films and be able to look up to beautiful and complex heroines. But there is a different set of questions that comes with living in the diaspora and belonging to two different worlds. I got to see a character who was both Indian and American the same way that I’m both Bengali and American. At the same time. Both/and, not either/or.
There is also something unfamiliar and comforting about seeing a fellow-Desi American girl part of a new generation of media that has historically been dominant with white faces and white stories and white versions of our stories. There are a lot of parts about Never Have I Ever which I love, but one thing I will forever be grateful to this show for is letting Devi be a teenage girl, like any other female teenage protagonist. And like any other teenager, she wants to discover who she really is. As a woman of color, it shows how our lives don’t always revolve around questions of identity or tales of struggle. We do homework, we have crushes, we fight with our parents and our friends, and we say sorry for stupid things we’ve done.
There is something revolutionary in the simplicity of this story. But I think it’s getting the privilege to exist in the ordinary that becomes an extraordinary feat.