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  • Kanya Navanathan

Mindy Kaling and Me

“Omigod you look just like Selena Gomez.”

“Wow you have hair exactly like Merida’s in Brave.”

“You would be a perfect Cinderella for Halloween!”

While my friends took quizzes trying to decide which one of the characters

from “Friends” they were, I was stuck wondering why none of them looked like me.

Whenever I turned on the TV, I felt alien. The experiences of the kids who were

supposed to be normal, attractive, and cool had nothing in common with me.There

were barely any brown characters on screen, and that few that existed were flat out

stereotypes. And not even good ones. “I would never wear short overalls..” I thought

after watching Baljeet get beat up by Buford for the 50th time. I grew up thinking

brown people weren’t supposed to be on screen, and that my story didn’t deserve to

be heard.

Then in a stroke of nerdiness, I found a book written by none other than

Mindy Kaling...whoever that was. I didn’t know who she was at 11 okay, sue me! But

when I opened her autobiography / collection of essays “Is Everyone Secretly

Hanging Out Without Me?” I knew I found my soulmate. I never had an answer to

the question “Who’s your favourite celebrity?” until now. But there it was, a book that

changed how I saw myself and my future.

Mindy’s autobiography is nothing short of hilarious, but more importantly it

showed me that it’s possible to get far in the world of Hollywood without having to

rely on racist stereotypes. Her book got me interested in the Mindy Project and The

Office. Mindy was into a lot of off-color comedy, but her identity was never the butt

of the joke. She preferred making jokes about kooky personalities that were informed

by their backgrounds, instead of playing up her ethnic traits for a cheap laugh. She

created worlds where South Asian heroines weren’t bullied, and weren't

unmarketable. Whenever I watched one of her shows, I could count on always feeling

like I belonged.

“Never Have I Ever” was a TV show that changed my life. The show centers

around Devi Vishwakumar, a 15 year old girl coping with the recent and sudden loss

of her father. It goes through her life and her struggles dating, friendship, and grief.

As someone who had lost their mother around the time the show came out, its

portrayal of grief was one of the most honest depictions I had seen on TV. We

understand grief as five steps people cycle through until they get over it and move on,

but Never Have I Ever brings a more realistic approach to it. Instead grief is a cycle,

one that spits you up and washes you away. Devi is a sympathetic protagonist, but

she makes bad choices all the time because she lost her moral guide while going

through all these new high school struggles. Devi’s personality goes way beyond

stereotypes. She has high grades, but a hyper competitive attitude that bleeds into

straight up anger issues. She’s nerdy, but doesn’t let other people make her feel bad

about it. She is at the center of a love triangle. It isrevolutionary to see a south asian

woman take on a lead role. Especially in a high school setting. Devi’s place in the

sitcom world shows that there are entertaining ways to blend the struggles of high

school along with the cultural struggles, all while keeping a light tone and upbeat


“Never Have I Ever” is not the only Mindy Kaling show that covers these deep

subjects with a diverse cast. “The Sex Lives of College Girls” is a drama series

covering the lives of four roomates at Essex University. Leighton, Whitney, Kimberly,

and Bela are freshman college students exploring their sexualities and their

newfound freedom. The jokes are hilarious, but this show has a darker tone than

“Never Have I Ever.” The show covers subjects like sexism, racism, sexual assault,

homophobia and many issues pertaining to that. I found myself heavily relating to

Bela, a South Asian comedienne and student desperately trying to fit in at the

Caluten Comedy Club. Her story mirrored my own very closely. We both want to

desperately fit in white dominated, male dominated spaces but the challenges that

come with it are excruciating. Despite the emphasis of comedy being authenticity,

she frequently faces prejudice and discrimination for being herself. Kaling

approaches these issues with the sensitivity and tact required to do so. Her portrayal

of the fear and shame around speaking out against harassers felt honest. It never

feels melodramatic.

Mindy Kaling is the perfect writer, able to balance the difficult truths of living

as a woman of colour from an immigrant family. Her poignant writing style

highlights the heart in all the stories she portrays. I am so able to deeply relate to her

characters, which is a feeling so overwhelming it brings me to tears. To never see

people who are like you on screen can be so isolating, but with Kaling’s works, I have

never felt more seen.

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