A scene from The Mindy Project’s “Bernardo and Anita” episode that explores the character’s immigrant roots
By Ed Diokno
In this week’s episode of The Mindy Project, our favorite OB-GYN, Mindy Lahiri, proclaims she is an Indian American and refuses to acknowledge what her colleague thinks of her—an entitled white man.
It took four years, but with “Bernardo and Anita,” the 18th episode of the fourth season, producer and lead actor Mindy Kaling finally addresses the biggest issue and critique the show has gotten—her character doesn’t date Indian men, or men of ethnicity for that matter, and doesn’t really discuss her culture on the show (mainly because she doesn’t know much about it).
I won’t go into too much detail about the plot line, but just let me tell you, she discovers that she’s a coconut, you know, brown on the outside and white in the inside.
When The Mindy Project debuted on the Fox network, it was highly praised for having a person of color star in a sitcom on American TV.
But Indian Americans – and other Asian Americans – were soon disappointed because though the sitcom starred an Indian American, it might as well have been a white woman because the show never addressed or acknowledged her ethnic roots. In fact, at times it seems that the show seemed to deliberately steer away from that topic. This episode will finally address that criticism.
In a 2013 interview with The New York Times, Kaling said that “I knew if I was going to have my own show, I’d have to do it myself. Because no one is going to write a show for a chubby brown woman. It’s hard enough to make it if you’re a thin, conventionally attractive woman. I also knew I was only going to be good at certain things… So I just thought: I’ll do it myself.”
Despite that criticism about never being about an Indian American woman – and the fact that her character only dated white men – The Mindy Project was an important landmark show for its groundbreaking star. Not only was she a thirty something woman running her own sitcom, starring herself, but she’s an Indian woman doing so. What’s so amazing about Kaling is how she took those differences, those ways she varies from convention, and steered them into the greatest assets of her show. She should only do so more.
Perhaps, with the show dropped by Fox and picked up by Hulu, Kaling now has the latitude to be more adventuresome with her storylines.
RELATED: Mindy Kaling’s show picked up by Hulu
This episode shows that the exploration of this side of Mindy’s status is valuable, and will hopefully offer more opportunities like this one, since her show has been renewed by Hulu
for a fifth season.
The episode explores how immigrants raise their children and will no doubt draw comparisons to Aziz Ansari’s Master of None episode about his immigrant parents. Let’s not fall into that trap of which one is better at addressing the issues of immigrants and their children caught between two cultures as brown people in a culture dominated by European Americans. Let’s just welcome home the prodigal daughter.
(Ed Diokno writes a blog :Views From The Edge: news and analysis from an Asian American perspective.)
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