The Mindy Kaling Effect

The release of ‘Velma’ has reignited discussions about how the actor, writer, and producer portrays South Asian characters on screen. But what does the backlash say about us?

Sadaf Ahsan

January 20, 2023

The Mindy Kaling Effect
Mindy Kaling in the sitcom 'The Mindy Project'

In the first episode of Velma, a spin-off of the classic Scooby Doo animated series in which Mindy Kaling plays both the star and executive producer, her iconic character is hit with a litany of insults: she is fat, ugly, hairy, a “fashionably challenged loser,” forgettable, “a total dog,” weird, and smart (this is clarified to be “not a compliment”). 

It’s something we’ve seen from Kaling before — she often writes and plays women who are an unlikeable mess, whether that’s in The Office, The Mindy Project, Late Night, The Sex Lives of College Girls, or Never Have I Ever. Sometimes these women are hot, sometimes not. Sometimes they bemoan once being “an Indian loser,” and other times, they embrace their heritage. Almost every time they seem to be in love with a mean white man who looks eerily like the one before him. And, each time, like clockwork, Kaling’s name begins to trend on social media, and the internet declares, “Mindy Kaling, just because you are an Indian loser does not mean all Indians are losers.” Absolutely, yes. 

But this time around, it all seems to have hit a fever pitch, where folks have gone from validly criticizing her characters to criticizing every choice Kaling has ever made — when it comes to her work, her body, her beliefs, and her family. As the great TV personality NeNe Leakes once said, “It’s getting weird.” The question is: why do we keep having this debate, and how much of it is about Kaling —  one of the few creators of color who consistently spearheads big-budget projects — and what does this debate say about us?