The Mindy Project, starring Mindy Kaling is the third of my case studies. This is probably the most influential media object I will study for my project, just because it is the first show on primetime American television to feature a female lead from South-East Asia.
The show answers all the questions mentioned in the criteria. She is a working professional (she plays an OB/GYN). My main point of contention on this is that even though she is shown to be a qualified medical practitioner, the episodes do not revolve around her professional life as much as maybe I might have wanted them to and only center on her quest to find a partner. But that is purely my prejudice and I will not hold it against the show. Her race is alluded to, particularly in episodes that aim to provide a stark contrast to her ethnicity and that of her suitors. She is the primary lead of the show and her race does not play a part in determining who her romantic interest is on the show (the two leading contenders are Caucasian males).
She is not subject to the obvious stereotypes associated with her race, but some of the quirks and eccentricities that are often subject to that group are mentioned on the show (primarily her quest to find a partner and settle down). For example, on one occasion when she is debating on whether to wear a particular outfit to a first date and asking her assistants for their opinion, they ask the White male doctor what he thinks because “she wouldn’t know if it was the right thing to wear because she didn’t grow up in this country”. To which she clarifies hat she did, in fact, grow up in the US. To that effect, Peter X Feng quotes Susan Koshy in his book ‘Identities in Motion: Asian American Film and Video’ when he writes: “There is no literal referent for the rubric ‘Asian American’, and, as such, the name is marked by the limits of its signifying power. It then becomes our responsibility to articulate the inner contradictions of the term and to enunciate its representational inconsistencies and dilemmas” (Feng, Pg. 6)
This show is a bit of a pioneer in terms of casting actors from other ethnic groups as leads on American television. While many shows have featured actors of color portraying protagonists, the storyline has usually been tailored to suit that fact. On this show, the lead actor’s race/ethnicity is not a factor at all and she is being wooed by two white men. I feel this is definitely a huge step forward in terms of encasing cultural diversity on American television. As a point of comparison, I’ve written about Monday Mornings on this blog. It features Sarayu Rao as Dr. Sydney Napur (which is a culturally incorrect name to begin with; it brings back memories of Peter Seller’s character in The Party being named Hrundi V. Bakshi) and is another show with a prominent Asian female character, who is also portrayed as being a professional in the medical field.
The question this show will throw up is whether Asian audiences will warm to the fact of her being absolutely ‘Americanized’ on the show or will want some aspects of her ethnicity to shine through. If either of these points is considered, it will be interesting to see how the storyline adapts to that. A lot has been written about this show and I look forward to analyzing it in more detail.