Sizzle This: Does Mindy Kaling Really Have a White Boy Problem in Her Shows?
In ‘Sizzle This,’ The Swaddle team adds to the noise around the pop culture moment of the week.
The latest — and final — season of ‘Never Have I Ever’ dropped, and with it, renewed discourse about Mindy Kaling’s alleged fixation with White boys as her South Asian protagonists’ love interests. The internet is once again split: should Mindy Kaling have the freedom to tell stories however she wants, or is she responsible for the way she portrays her South Asian characters and their lives? When it comes to diaspora representation, everyone has always had a million hot takes. Here are ours:
SM: Nothing comforts like a good Mindy Kaling binge – let her have her White boys.
DR: Never have I ever pondered over this show long or deep enough to be able to offer hot takes on it… And I say this as someone who’s watched all of it, barring the season that just dropped. For me, it’s been one of those breezy, high school, coming-of-age sitcoms that are engaging in that moment, but forgettable soon after. As for representation, I’ve not felt too strong of a cultural connect to the show; I haven’t attempted to assess why either. Maybe it’s bad writing, poor execution, trope-y narratives, stereotypical characters… could be anything. Or many things. Or nothing. Don’t know, don’t care. For beautiful, wholesome diaspora representation in a post-2020 show about a South Asian teenager, my go-to would be Ms. Marvel.
SA: Never Have I Ever is a mediocre but fun show, it isn’t worth so much discourse. The internet should have bigger issues to worry about than whether Ben Gross is good enough for Devi or not.
HK: Allegations of artistic laziness, betrayal, and White guy fetishization have followed Mindy Kaling’s career since she began playing Kelly Kapoor. The internet’s complicated relationship with her is one I sympathize with, but cannot agree with — why should one person be weighted with the burden of representation? For any non-White, non-cis, non-heterosexual person, their group identity coalesces with their personality, and while I agree that her representation is skewed, hasn’t she already declared her stance here as that of an “onion” — brown on the outside, yet white on the inside — in her titular show, The Mindy Project?
For her characters, White acceptance is still a battle they’re grappling with – and they’re all girlfailures in their own right. If you see a brown character appear on-screen, you don’t need to watch further to guess where the plot line is headed – a sprinkle of representation to satisfy the South Asian subcontinent, a little bit of eye candy, and a complicated relationship with their parents. But this is not restricted to solely her, because she is a part of a greater cultural pattern that appeases the White demographic.
Mindy Kaling’s real life persona collapses into her reel characters, and while I believe her dating patterns on-screen should not be seen as a betrayal to her race, I do think she could be slightly more careful in the way she represents young Indian girls – not as bumbling, insecure messes of culture and diaspora, but rather as unique entities. Her comedy might have gotten a little stale, but I’m still binge-watching the 4th season so I guess I do settle for some representation over none.
RN: Conversations about representation are so tired, because inevitably the ideal South Asian protagonist is an upper-caste, wealthy, Hindu character in most diaspora-centric media. Mindy Kaling isn’t guilty of a White boy problem so much as she’s guilty of a repetitive sameness problem. In other words, I’m getting bored because her character start to blend into each other, not their love interests.