Finally, a show that not only features a lead female character of colour but a show written, created, and produced by a successful woman of colour in the entertainment industry. I am, of course, referring to The Mindy Project that premiered this week, the new comedy brain child of Mindy Kaling, writer and actress who plays Kelly Kapoor on The Office.
Watch Ep. 1 of The Mindy Project:
In the U.S. on Fox.com
In Canada on CityTV.com
Hearing about Kaling's pet project getting picked up by a major network like Fox filled me with a ridiculous amount of hope. The last time I felt this hopeful was when Obama first announced his run for presidency back in 2008.
Okay, maybe the excitement level, not quite the same, but this show still left me feeling hopeful nonetheless. I'm certain that the show will gain a strong following. Kaling plays a hilarious character on The Office and she's been known for writing some of the best episodes for the show. Comedy credibility, check. She's the first South Asian woman to star in a rom com show that will follow her romantic exploits. Historical precedence, check. As the only woman gynecologist in her office, she assumes a position of authority not typical of most female rom com leads. Strong independent female role model, check. What more can you ask for in a rom com show starring a brown female protagonist?
I don't want to rain on my own parade, but I believe this show could use more...more men of colour. And I totally get it. Why should the onus of representing racial diversity be placed on the one mainstream show about a single woman of colour searching for her one true love? It's rom com after all? Why take things so seriously?
The Mindy Project is about a lonely awkward brown girl who grew up and got through med school watching romantic comedies. To this day, Kaling's character, also named Mindy, can quote these films verbatim. The women in these films are white. Their love interests, also white. So far, Mindy's love interests, also white. And I'm not just raising a stink about casting.
From the beginning of the pilot, we see Mindy being passed over by her male co-worker for being the best resident at the obstetrician's clinic. Then we get the hilarious back story of her first serious live-in boyfriend passing her over and marrying the Serbian bagel girl with the bad teeth (after he fixes her teeth). After giving an embarrassing but hilariously awkward toast (a hilariously awkward Office kind of toast) at her ex's wedding, Mindy runs off into the night on a drunken bicycle ride only to land at the bottom of the pool and receive harsh love advice from a blonde, blue-eyed doll who taunts her for having what she lacks: a (white) boyfriend.
The thing with racial comedy is that it can be so hard to critique. Is this a social commentary on the limited love narratives made available to all women, or is it simply an exercise in racial diversity? A thought experiment...hey, let's throw a brown woman into a rom com and see what happens. It's a bit too early to tell. But so far, at least, the show doesn't shy away from questions of race. At least it's still conscious of race.
Literary editor for Schema Magazine, Malissa is a second gen Canadian and third gen Sino-Vietnamese. A firm believer in the power of words and yoga, she is known for her unrestrained and infectious laugh. Her guilty pleasures include predictable crime shows, sexy legal dramas, dancing with wild abandon, and ethnic restaurants. She's also finishing a PhD dissertation on Aboriginal-Chinese relations in Chinese Canadian literature. You can find her on Twitter @loudmouthAsian or on academia.edu.