I recently did a post about Mindy Kaling’s book ‘Why Not Me?‘ and an episode of the show Quantico. I don’t often see South Asian people on screen who I can identify with, especially not characters who have real personalities and aren’t just the stereotypical cab drivers with accents. That’s not to say there aren’t real Pakistani and Indian taxi drivers who have recently immigrated to the United States in hopes of providing his/her family with a better life, because there most definitely are. But the problem comes about when the characters portrayed on screen are reduced to just their stereotypes. Because the cab drivers who helped my husband and I travel around Seattle and Portland last year had full lives with wives who lived abroad and theories about their competitors at Uber – they were more than their jobs and their accents.
Master of None is a show created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang that stars Ansari as the lead character of Dev, a 32-year old actor living in New York City. The show is absolutely hilarious because the dialogue totally strikes in my awkward life (Dev frequently ends conversations with ‘well this interaction is over now’).
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In my previous post about Mindy Kaling’s book Why Not Me? I shared my excitement about seeing a South Asian female lead in a mainstream TV show because it really isn’t something that happens often. So imagine my excitement when I heard about Quantico – a show casting not only a South Asian female lead but also a hijabi Muslim woman!
The premise of the show is the following: nine (or so) months after they arrive at Quantico, an FBI training academy, the South Asian student Alex Parish (played by the actress Priyanka Chopra) is being framed – allegedly by one of her fellow classmates – for a bombing at Grand Central. The show presents both a timeline in the present and periodically flashes back to the students’ time at Quantico to give insight into who may actually be responsible for the terrorist attack.
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I feel like I’ve always had this love/hate relationship with Mindy Kaling (okay, hate is a strong word – let’s just say that I had really high expectations for her and sometimes felt let down). My first real exposure to her was her first book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) and I absolutely loved it. It’s been a few years since I’ve read the book (and I’ve become much more critically thinking in that time) so I’m not sure if I’d feel the same way now.
After reading the book, I started watching The Mindy Project and also had a sort of love/hate relationship with the show. As a South Asian woman myself, I was so excited to have someone who looked like me be a lead in a show. In the show, Mindy Lahiri is an eccentric and hilarious OB-GYN and I loved that. But I felt irked by the lack of people of color on the show, particularly when it came to Dr. Lahiri’s love interests. Knowing that Mindy Kaling understood the lack of diversity in Hollywood, I had this really intense expectation of her show to be full of people of color and people of ‘normal’ sizes. And every time her character dated a white man, I felt profoundly disappointed – like my older sister had just stabbed me in the back (yes, I really was this dramatic). I even stopped watching her show for a while.
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