After ‘Velma,’ the latest round of Mindy Kaling Discourse misses the point

After the release of “Velma,” the online backlash for the creator is really about one thing: fatigue.

Mindy Kaling’s name speaks for itself in Hollywood—for better or for worse.

The multi-hyphenate comedian, who got her start writing and acting on “The Office,” has just starred in HBO Max’s “Velma,” an adult series executive produced by Kaling and created by Charlie Grandy. Kaling’s first solo show, 2012’s “The Mindy Project,” debuted on Netflix in January. The perfect storm of new and old—highlighting the common threads in Kaling’s work—resulted in a a fresh wave of online backlash against the creator and his work. This latest criticism cites internalized racism, lazy writing, and other issues, but what’s causing these feelings is really quite simple: fatigue. At this point in her career, Kaling’s fans know what type of character she’ll be playing or writing, but some viewers are still hating and loathing what the creator has long laid out as her thesis.

HBO Max announced that Kaling will be voicing the well-known Scooby-Doo character as early as 2021, and this decision, according to Kaling herself, has received positive feedback. When it was later revealed that the character would be reimagined as South Asian in Kaling’s image, the backlash was so strong that Kaling felt it herself. Most, citing that this is no longer the beloved character that many grew up with, that it is no longer Velma, has racist undertones, an ugly and common reaction to minority casting announcements, especially those that build original characters. white.

After “Velma” hit the world (IndieWire gave the show a “B-”), the conversation shifted, and the complaints are familiar to anyone who follows Kaling. At the top of the list of concerns lobbied on social media is that “Velma” seems like another character in a well-known Kaling mold: an Indian-American woman with a particular cocktail of dry humor and self-loathing who is not her persona. intertwined with her culture and who has a crush on a cis-het white male. That’s a legitimate concern when it comes to “The Sex Lives of College Girls” or “I’ve Never Been Before,” but Kaling basically didn’t write or create “Velma.” The character undoubtedly took shape around its cast, but the show has a lot of pent-up viewer frustration (and an apparent wave of hate-watching).

Meanwhile, for many viewers, the Netflix debut is the first showing of Fox’s “The Mindy Project,” Kaling’s first show and the first iteration of her soon-to-be recurring character type. Much of “The Mindy Project” — like many of its contemporaries like “New Girl,” “Happy Endings” or “How I Met Your Mother” — has not aged well. A product of an era of television sitcoms in which society was theoretically pretentious and post-offense—offend all to offend no one. This is the argument today’s comedians use to defend their unwavering habit of knocking off— a dated philosophy that even appears in “Velma”, a show that should at least be better to keep up with the times.

A long-haired woman wearing a brown and navy patterned sweater stands in a brightly lit and colorful office;  still from it "The Mindy Project"

“The Mindy Project”

Jordin Althaus/Hulu/Courtesy Everett Collection / Everett Collection

Here are some of the online criticisms leveled at Kaling during the weekend of “Velma’s” premiere: that her writing is damaging to young girls, that she’s part of a class of South Asian comics whose humor is out of date, that she’s been brainwashed by an Ivy League New England education. , that he is Islamophobic, that he is a TERF. Some of these are persuasive arguments, some are rooted in fact, some mix your views with your characters, and at least one is based on…like a tweet.

It is definitely worth raising the concern that the “sex-obsessed brunette girl in love with white men” isn’t the healthiest representation of South Asian-American women on television, but Kaling’s work has paved the way for new, fresh voices to take on their own version. (You have to bet the studios and networks on this talent, and somewhat on them, for repeatedly turning to Kaling for any South Asian representation.) The Islamophobia invoked in “The Mindy Project” is painful, but intended as satire (again, worth watching). through a retrospective critical lens); “I’ve Never Been Before” arguably highlights the very real prejudice between Hindus and Muslims, but misses an opportunity to examine why it’s harmful.

Kaling and peers like Aziz Ansari came into being in an entertainment industry built to work against them, to exclude them, mixing until they could stand. Their voices can be muddled because their paths to fame—and to writing Native American characters—were tumultuous. Kaling’s characters long for whiteness because that’s what she and countless others have been told for generations. No wonder it doesn’t resonate with some modern viewers.

Between the bookends of “The Mindy Project” and “Velma” is the rest of Kaling’s career, with characters based on or played by Kaling (sometimes both). From “The Office” to “Late Night,” they have similarities, which is the last straw for many “Velma” viewers. It’s fatigue, pure and simple. Kalinga’s mode of operation It’s worn out for casual viewers, who don’t seem to be looking at his latest projects, but at how they exist. It’s the kind of cynicism that occurs elsewhere in Hollywood, viewers who tire of someone like Ryan Reynolds or Adam Sandler consistently playing the same character — yet that kind of vitriol is rarely directed at those actors, and especially for white men.

Kaling’s detractors simply don’t need to look at her work—and her defenders don’t need to justify that this highly successful woman repeatedly describes what she knows and what has already worked. There’s little evidence that Kaling’s next original project (both “Never Have I Ever” and “The Sex Lives of College Girls” will return) — writing, acting, producing or starring — won’t follow that formula. which you have customized. back to “The Office”.

Loaded responses like this appear because a creator has touched a nerve. Outrage aside—again, that’s racist—unpacking Kaling’s characters can be a constructive exercise, but even if you read every review, there’s no guarantee of change. For viewers who are simply tired of watching the same thing, the easy answer is to go hands-free. For those offended by the specific themes and characteristics she revisits, these conversations may mean more than directing anger at Kaling. And for Hollywood executives, there is a clear need for a variety of nuanced South Asian characters with new voices behind them (literally and figuratively)—an opportunity that needs to be seized.

“Velma” is now streaming on HBO Max with two new episodes every Thursday. “The Mindy Project” is available on Netflix.

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