Features

Bar set high for a diverse ‘Mindy Project’

Mindy Kaling (Associated Press)
Mindy Kaling (Associated Press)

When “The Mindy Project” premiered on Fox in fall 2012, it was widely hailed as a breakthrough in the diversity of mainstream television. Its star, Mindy Kaling, who plays a romantically challenged obstetrician in a New York hospital, became the first woman of color to create, helm and star in a successful sitcom on a major network.

But even as the broadcast networks overall are showcasing more minority actors in scripted programming than ever, Kaling is facing mounting criticism that her own sitcom isn’t diverse enough. Critics and other observers have pointed out that the popular Indian-American actress and executive producer with 2.8 million Twitter followers has surrounded her prime-time fictional self with a mostly white cast.

Unlike many past and present medical shows on network television – a list that includes “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scrubs,” “House” and even “E.R.” – “The Mindy Project” does not feature a strong multi-ethnic ensemble. In addition to Kaling’s character, the only other minority regular cast member is Xosha Roquemore, who joined the show late in the first season as a sassy nurse.

Drawing even closer scrutiny have been Kaling’s on-screen boyfriends and lovers – all white. The show, which has been picked up for a third season and returned from a midseason break Tuesday, has not dodged the subject. In fact, characters have made fun of Kaling’s Dr. Mindy Lahiri for her lighter-skinned preferences.

“I think it’s too bad that a small minority of people are fixated on the men who are in bed with me,” said Kaling in an interview with the Los Angeles Times last week. “I think that’s a bit specific and weird.”

But Kaling said she understood that diversity on “The Mindy Project” has become a hot topic – one that has affected her deeply.

“Ultimately, this is a compliment to the bar that people have set for me,” she said. “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-America community,” she added. “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.”

But some say Kaling is being unfairly singled out and held to a higher standard because of her ethnic background. Shows with predominantly white casts, such as CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” or HBO’s “Veep,” are rarely asked about including multi-ethnic characters.

Kaling said she is listening and is determined to press on with her show.

“I have a great job, a great life and a great responsibility, like Spider-Man,” she said, smiling. “I have to do more, and that’s fine. I’m excited about it.”



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