The Mindy Project: A Refutation of South Asian American Stereotypes
I recently started watching The Mindy Project, a comedy airing on Fox. It’s actually the first television show in the U.S. to feature a South Asian American as the lead. The show was created and produced by Mindy Kahling, who played Kelly Kapoor in the long-running comedy series, The Office.
As a young South Asian American woman, I was really excited when I heard the premise of the show. And I was not disappointed—Mindy Kahling was incredibly funny as Kelly Kapoor, and she is even funnier on her own show. She plays a fashionable and somewhat ditzy ob/gyn who is a partner in the firm.
As far as I’ve observed, the show is a complete refutation of Asian American stereotypes. Mindy Kahling speaks in a clear American accent, her past and present boyfriends (that we know of thus far) have been Caucasian, and she wears completely western/contemporary dress. And what I find most interesting about the show is that though there has been no addressing of South Asian American issues—and I’m not sure that would have a place in a comedy series—there is this constant self-awareness, that these are conscious decisions on the part of the screenwriters to refute these stereotypes. The show is coy about its decisions in character and representation.
A prevalent stereotype about South Asian Americans is that they all become doctors. Mindy is, in fact, a doctor, but her personality or the way she practices medicine is anything but stereotypical. Similarly, some of Mindy’s quips draw attention to her South Asian heritage. At one point she suggests an alternate life goal of doing that “Eat Pray Love” thing, but then immediately dismisses the idea saying, “oh wait, I don’t want to pray.” At another point, she is picking a place to live by spinning a globe and it happens to land on India. Her immediate response is, “Ew. No.” The comedy of these moments comes from their unexpectedness. But the writers of the show are very aware that these moments will be perceived as unexpected. It’s a sly little prodding, an unspoken whisper that suggests, we know what you expect, and we’re going to turn that on its head.
– Aliza Lalji
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