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Amid ‘Velma’ pushback, Mindy Kaling is a ‘lightning rod’ held to an impossible standard, some critics say


A week later, the response to “Velma,” HBO Max’s new animated series, has hardly been the subject of reboot dreams.

The series is now the third lowest rated television series on IMDB; HBO Max has disabled comments on the show’s trailer; and the South Asian community has loudly voiced concerns that while the show includes diverse characters, it doesn’t further explore identity.

But there’s a resounding voice of critics saying the negative commentary might be wrong because Mindy Kaling, the voice of Velma and executive producer of the show, is held to unfair standards as one of the only portrayals of women. South Asians in the industry.

“She’s become a lightning rod for that kind of criticism,” said Lakshmi Srinivas, associate professor of Asian American studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

The new “Scooby-Doo” reboot serves as the origin story of Velma – who is now a bisexual South Asian teenager – trying to solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance.

The series received disappointing reviews from critics and viewers. Critics gave the series a 50% positive rating, and audience members gave it 6% on Rotten Tomatoes. Many users said they were disappointed that the show left out Scooby and the story didn’t hold up to the original series.

Critics had mixed reactions, with some saying the show was cheeky for its outlandish jokes and gripping story, while others said the characters were unpleasant to watch, saying Velma acted selfishly and that Fred was described as a wealthy and impotent snob.

Kaling and HBO Max did not respond to NBC News’ request for comment.

One of the main points that some South Asians take issue with in “Velma” aligns with a long history of what some say is that Kaling picks out the most negative stereotypes about South Asians without properly exploring racial dynamics. The series’ jokes and characterization are similar to most of Kaling’s characters in the past.

Velma’s body hair, “masculine” features and weight quickly became the main topic of jokes. In the first episode, Fred, Velma’s white male crush, told her she was a “fashionable loser. [the students] to depend on for group projects”, and that he had taken her for his governess. In another scene, Velma said she was telling the truth without a filter, “like all comedians before #MeToo.” The viewers critical the line, saying it was no fun making fun of the social movement. “Not a joke!!!” said a tweet.

Backlash towards “Velma” quickly turned into backlash towards Kaling and his past projects, with viewers flocking to TikTok and Twitter to share their opinions.

A few viewers came to Kaling’s defense, giving context to his influences and obsessions.

“You must remember these two [Kaling and TV creator Shonda Rhimes] spent formative sex years in Dartmouth over 20 years ago. That’s all there was,” @RohitaKadambi said in a tweet.

From Mindy Lahiri in “The Mindy Project” to Devi in ​​”Never Have I Ever” to Bela in “The Sex Lives of College Girls”, some have pointed out that Kaling’s main South Asian characters share similar qualities: l self-deprecating humour, a disconnect from their culture, an obsession with sex, making inappropriate comments and a romantic affinity towards white men.

Lahiri has navigated his medical practice and a host of white male romantic interests. Bela reminded viewers that she was a sweaty Indian loser with acne and glasses, and Devi said her arms felt like “the floor of a barbershop”.

Harleen Singh, associate professor of South Asian literature and women’s studies at Brandeis University, said blaming Kaling alone was not helpful and the real problems were systemic.

” She is a [person]. We collectively criticize how people of color and bodies of color tend to always be representative of the collective and not the individual. But that’s exactly what we’re doing to him by placing the onus on him to speak for all of us,” Singh said.

In 2021, South Asian women made up 0.3% of on-screen representation in television and film, according to research by the Nielsen Company. South Asian males made up 2.3% of screen representation.

“Having everything to one artist in popular media, who also has to follow Hollywood conventions…it’s not easy, because Hollywood itself has a problem with diversity,” Srinivas said.

Srinivas understands why the South Asian community feels misrepresented by Mindy, Devi, Bela or Velma.

“When his characters have become so popular with the general public, I think it’s understandable that the South Asian community would feel somewhat outraged by this portrayal of a South Asian individual,” she said.

But she also said Kaling wasn’t wrong about everything.

“It is not inauthentic compared to the experience of South Asian children growing up in this society. They face a lot of discrimination and a lot of bullying at school. We make fun of their names, we make fun of their food, so they might grow up with this terrible defensiveness about this culture,” she said. “They’re a lot like the characters Mindy portrays.”

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