The Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA), while thanking Fox for renewing “The Mindy Project” for a third season, is asking the network to end the “white only” dating policy of series creator/star Mindy Kaling and to add more Asian Americans to the cast.
In a letter to Fox Entertainment Chairman Kevin Reilly, Fox Broadcasting COO Joe Earley, and Fox Broadcasting Executive Vice President of Comedy Development and Programming Suzanna Makkos, MANAA Founding President Guy Aoki wrote:
“Thank you for renewing ‘The Mindy Project’ for a third season. Although it doesn’t boast a large viewing audience, it has received a lot of critical support and is the only series amongst the top four networks that stars an Asian American — Mindy Kaling.
“We are concerned that in the course of two seasons, her character, Dr. Lahiri, has had a ‘white-only’ dating policy involving about a dozen men. And except for this season’s addition of African American Xosha Roquemore, the cast continues to be all white. Somehow, we can’t imagine the black female star of a sitcom not dating any black men and having no other black regulars in the cast.
“Since Kaling is the showrunner, this obviously reflects her values. Even more troubling has been her defensive comments while asked about the lack of diversity in her character’s romantic interests. She had a strangely defensive response to Entertainment Weekly: ‘Do people really wonder on other shows if female leads are dating multicultural people? Like I owe it to every race and minority and beleaguered person. I have to become the United Nations of shows?’
“She implied that minorities—like herself—are unwanted, undeserving, and untalented.
“When asked at SXSW (South by Southwest) about the lack of diversity on her show, she began swearing, saying, ‘I have four series regulars that are women on my show, and no one asks any of the shows I adore — and I won’t name them because they’re my friends — why no leads on their shows are women or of color, and I’m the one that gets lobbied about these things.’
“Our response: Because you’re a minority and you know how much more difficult it is for people of color to succeed in this business. Mindy Kaling got some big breaks because she’s a minority — an East Asian Indian American — and was helped by the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition (APAMC).
“After forming in the summer of 1999, the APAMC — of which I am a founding member — pushed the top four networks to create many programs — including for actors, writers and directors — to help give opportunities to minorities who, in the past, had not had equal access to the industry. NBC’s Diverse Staff Writers Initiative (DSWI) was one of those outcomes.
“By being accepted into the DSWI, Kaling was placed on the NBC series ‘The Office’ as a staff writer. The executive producer wasn’t sure about letting her be seen on camera, but a story called for a minority to slap Michael Scott (Steve Carell), so she got the role and eventually joined the cast, became an executive producer, and directed episodes. The NBC/Universal Television Studio signed Kaling to a development deal, which led to ‘The Mindy Project,’ which Fox picked up as a series for the fall of 2012.
“Does Kaling understand the concept of ‘giving back?’ Or having ‘gotten hers’ is she now content to perpetuate the same unofficial policies of exclusion of many white showrunners? Instead of being part of the solution, she’s part of the problem. She’s creating the impression that by surrounding her character with mostly white people and dating only white men that Lahiri’s become more accepted by the white population. It only shows how internalized racism has affected Kaling’s own sense of self-worth to the point where she seems to be embarrassed by fellow Asian Americans.
“Even more sadly, Miss Kaling refuses to be honored by Asian American organizations proud of her accomplishments in the business. Would a black performer likewise refuse to be feted by African American groups?
“We hope that going forward you can make a concerted effort to have more Asian Americans on the show including romantic interests and doctors (as you know, one out of every six doctors in this country is of Asian descent, so you would expect to see more Asian doctors in a medical practice such as Lahiri’s). We look forward to your response.”
Adds Aoki: “In 2011, as the co-chair of the APAMC, I pushed the top four networks to air a series starring (first name in the credits) an Asian American within three years. Because it wasn’t happening on its own, we felt we had to give them a timetable so they could concentrate on making this a reality (since the APAMC formed in 1999, the only new show that fit that description was ABC’s ‘Cashmere Mafia’ starring Lucy Liu). We don’t think it’s a coincidence that one year later, we got ‘The Mindy Project’ on Fox.”
In a recent interview with The Los Angeles Times, Kaling said, “I think it’s too bad that a small minority of people are fixated on the men who are in bed with me. I think that’s a bit specific and weird.”
On the issue of diversity on her show, she added, “Ultimately, this is a compliment to the bar that people have set for me. And that expectation is not one that my peers face. And I have to accept that …
“The fact is, I am so proud to be an Asian American and part of the Asian American community. My connection with that community is so strong. It struck me that the show is being characterized as not celebrating that richness. I take that more personally than other things.”