Why I'm Disappointed in Mindy Kaling
Just because Kaling is a person of colour who leads a show's cast, doesn't mean she gets a pass on the race issue.
I should preface this by saying I don't want to hate Mindy Kaling. I want to adore and cherish the Indian-American comedian. I want to watch the TV shows and movies she stars in and think, "Isn't she great? She's great, right?" I want to ask a friend over text if they want to go watch the new thing she is in, and for them to say, "Fuck yes, I do."
Why? The true glee of watching the first Indian-American woman to have written and starred in her own television show is truly novel, and more importantly, historic.
But when I found out FOX cancelled The Mindy Project earlier this month, I let out a big, "HA! This is great news." To my chagrin, the streaming service Hulu announced it would "save" the show today, and has ordered 26 new episodes. Foiled again!
I've seen every single episode of the show, which ran a short three seasons, half hate-watching and half leaning in and enjoying the fact that I was witnessing a female lead who looked like me on a mainstream television network. It was a confusing three years.
The Mindy Project is the show on which Mindy Kaling plays Doctor Mindy Lahiri, and essentially, other than being a doctor, the plot hinges on her dating a ton of white dudes. The few times she addresses that fact, by having other characters call her out on her dating record, she recalls the time she dated a Korean guy: "His hands were so small, it made my boobs feel enormous!" Nice, Mindy. Here is why she sucks.
Reason 1: Kaling doesn't care to comment about being Indian
Unfortunately, Kaling's inability to speak about race follows her outside of the alter ego she plays on television. Kaling has been asked on a number of occasions to comment on her presence in a predominantly white space and her status as a pioneer for South Asian women specifically. Like a grumpy old white man, Kaling counters, "I'm a fucking Indian woman who has her own fucking network television show, OK?"
Not only does she scoff at the racial identifier, but gender as well. In her first book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? she preemptively asks, "Why didn't you talk about whether women are funny or not?" Her answer: "I just felt that by commenting on that in any real way, it would be tacit approval of it as a legitimate debate, which it isn't."
Reason 2: Kaling doesn't care about gender representation
I agree with Kaling. It shouldn't be a debate; women are funny. But why is the writing room for The Mindy Project made up of men (with the exception of Tracey Wigfield)? And why have most of her female co-stars on the show disappeared due to weak storylines (Anna Camp, Amanda Setton, Zoe Jarman, Kelen Coleman, and Mary Grill)?
Reason 3: Kaling's strange love for whiteness
I expect more intelligence from Kaling, especially since she is also a woman of colour in the West and her dual culture and bilingualism are realities for a lot of South Asians born and bred in North America. She has acknowledged that she has faced sexism in the industry, and yet refuses to comment on whether or not women are funny. I think part of the frustration lies in Kaling's less than intersectional feminism. Kaling seems to be more driven by traditional notions of success and heteronormative relationships. Viewers are bombarded by white ideals of beauty with every new love interest Mindy lands upon. Her pursuit of and desire for whiteness is reflected in the script on countless occasions. In the Season 2 episode "The Desert," Mindy is caught trespassing and hands her ID to an officer, saying, "OK, I know that my ID says that I'm 5'10" with blond hair, 110 pounds with crystal blue eyes. My philosophy is that an ID should be aspirational."
Reason 4: I need Kaling more than she needs me
OK, fine, I know, diversity is not an easy goal to achieve. It requires a lot of work from everyone involved. But just because Kaling is a person of colour who leads a show's cast, doesn't mean she gets a pass on the race issue. All of that work is undone when you avoid questions about a lack of representation and insert racially coy gags into your script, such as "... Mindy hates not being the only Asian in the room." These attempts to poke fun at race are lazy because they are not properly taken up in the show: they are simply inserted and forgotten about. Kaling uses race when it works, and conveniently avoids it when it does not. In an interview with EW she shares: "I was just born in this skin, so it's not something I think about while I'm writing." Just when it's funny, right?
I'm yearning for models like Kaling, because they are not readily available, which makes it ultra disappointing that she doesn't recognize her complexity as a non-white, female comedian. Kaling instead completely rejects these aspects of her identity, and chooses to implant visions of white ideals, in an industry that is already saturated with "Alexis Bledel Blue" eyes.
That is why I hate Mindy Kaling.
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