Today is going to be somewhat of an emotional, rant-y, super long post so be warned 🙂
I just finished watching Never Have I Ever.
If you haven’t heard of it, it’s the new and hot TV series that everyone’s talking about- it’s about Devi, an Indian-American teen who is getting over the loss of her father and her paralyzation. The show is so Indian, and I can’t tell you how much I love it.
Here’s the synopsis:
Never Have I Ever is a series about the life of a modern-day first-generation Indian American teenage girl, a highschool sophmore named Devi. She recently lost her father and was paralyzed for a few months but is looking to ‘start over’ this year- but friends, school, and circumstances don’t make it easy for her. The series is loosely inspired by Mindy Kaling, the director’s, childhood.
I am obsessed with this show. But not just a normal fangirl- to be honest, I probably won’t fangirl about it much like I do with a lot of other books/shows because this just isn’t that sort of series.
It’s flawed, and it has issues (mostly because a lot of it was quite cringy), but in my opinion that makes it so much better.
I’m going to try and explain my thoughts coherently right now before I go into a full-on rant, so here goes nothing!
What I liked about Never Have I Ever:
- Devi Viswanathan, the MC
- Her not feeling Indian enough and too Indian at the same time
- Her name not being whitewashed so it’s easier for people to pronounce (e.g. Mayas and Sanyas and Saras like they exist, but stop pretending that that’s all of us! I guarantee you that 90% of the readers of this post can’t pronounce my name properly but idgaf, I still love my name)
- Devi is easy enough to say but it’s super traditional. Viswanathan is just unapologetically South Indian!!
- Devi being able to be a great student and pay attention in school and also like boys and fashion and girly stuff
- Hotheaded and means well- yes, please!
- Dealing with her grief by ignoring it, total pro move
- Eleanor and Fabiola, her best friends
- Complex characters
- Holding Devi accountable for not being a good friend sometimes
- Caring about each other and Devi even when they’re in a fight
- Fabiola: her whole arc, the robots, and Eve
- Eleanor: her whole arc, her mom, and t h e s p i a n s rule!
- smol but annoying
- total nerd
- enemies to lovers?? YES PLEASE
- HIS SMILE OH GOSH
- Ben and Devi ftw!
- the whole parents thing 😦 poor Ben!!
- Him being a huge DORK about Rick and Morty
- AHAH THE PIZZA SCENE (kinda sad and gross but also really funny)
- I don’t ship Devi and Paxton, but I do think he’s a good character
- His sister and being protective of her
- Insecurity about his grades and stuff
- Him reacting normally and justifiably outraged when people objectified him and used him
- gosh, she’s such a flawed mother yet I can totally see her in other Indian moms!
- Honestly, the actor is GORGEOUS
- (insert a picture below)
- THE END WAS BEAUTIFUL
- classic Indian IT gorgeous girl smh I love it
- She reminds me of a young woman who I know pretty well, Rupa Akka, and Rupa Akka is also gorgeous and in a traditionally Asian-dominated field!
- Steve/Kamala was great but I’m Team Prashant XD
- First of all, sweetest dad ever!
- THE FLASHBACKS WERE EVERYTHING
- the coyote ❤
- the a s h e s
So there were my slightly coherent thoughts, it’s now time to get to full-on rambles.
I loved this series because it made me felt seen.
Let me explain.
Indians, let alone Indian-Americans, get basically no representation in mainstream media.
I’m not even going to specify “for teens” because then I can’t count a total- a total– of TWO Indian characters. And they’re both played by the same guy.
And, yeah, they’re both nerdy, obsessed with math, and have huge accents.
And you know what? Lots of Indians DO care about their education a lot. I can confirm that where I live, basically a hotspot for Asians, is super competitive because of this.
But that doesn’t mean we’re only schoolwork machines.
For example- I’m a Straight-A student, but I’m also a blogger, a lover of books and writing, a singer and violinist, a (hopeful but talented-I-think) actress, and an activist.
There’s so much more to me than being good at school, and I don’t think a lot of directors understand that (I mean, they’re mostly white dudes. What can I say? They obviously won’t understand: everyone in the media looks like them smh)
Mindy Kaling (the director and basically only Indian-American woman who is successful in Hollywood) gets it, though.
And she ended up crafting a beautiful, funny story about teens coming-of-age and of grief, and I loved it.
Also, there’s more.
I could actually! relate! to! Devi! And that’s huge because I usually can’t. All of the characters are gorgeous white girls with a family that’s just completely different* from anything I’ve grown up with. Their problems are boys and kissing, and although I’ve experienced that too and Devi’s story is also about that, it’s also a lot more.
Devi’s story explores what it means to have cultural diaspora and feel disconnected from your culture. It explores traditional Indian holidays and events as well as ‘normal’ teen things.
Plus, it helps that Devi’s family speaks the same language as me AND I FEEL SO VALID RIGHT NOW. The throwaway “kanna”s and “achicho”s make me feel fuzzy inside. I think this is probably individual to people of color and bilingual people who grew up hearing two languages (and no, I’m not talking about yall who started learning Spanish in high school. you don’t count and you know why XD).
Also, this is kinda weird, but when I first watched Black Panther and ATLA, I felt sort of like this, you know? Black Panther revolves around African culture and ATLA is based on Asian cultures (not Indian though, although there is one Indian-coded character with a very heavy accent and who talks about chakras a lot haha).
Even though these aren’t my cultures, I kinda felt happy on their behalf? Plus, it’s always great to see other people of color in the media- and their dark skin makes me feel seen too!!
Honestly, this post is turning into a bunch of things about not getting representation that people of color will understand and white people won’t get but will probably be really nice about because my readers are always nice >:o
My reaction to NHE was a lot like that, but several times more intense. It was like I was at home in the show, which is kind of like what El and I were talking about earlier today.
Also, important: this post is mainly about POC youth’s diaspora even though it’s supposedly a review, and I know that white people also can experience this e.g. being ginger without much rep or coming from a country with fewer media representation but please make an effort to understand that people of color experience that but on a much larger level and if you do, thank you. Also, queer, disabled, and other minority groups’ diaspora are also totally valid but I’m not going there today!
(hate that I feel like I’m offending people if I didn’t make that note- smh I wish I was brave enough to call out white privilege without constantly apologizing and make eXcEpTiOnS)
I’m just so thrilled that people who look like me are finally represented in the media. Devi just looks so Indian. There’s no way you can mistake her for being white or anything other than South Asian and I’m living for it!
The fact that the casting directors were unafraid to cast an actual Indian girl- with weird eyebrows like most of us has, thick black hair, arm hair which we all hate, and brown skin the same shade as mine- makes me so happy.
Devi dressing up in a half-sari for Ganesh puja and praying to the gods I pray to makes me happy. The two Bollywood songs that briefly played being songs I knew made me happy.
Is this how it feels to be white and watch a great show/movie/read a great book that’s awesome on its own, but is even more awesome because you can relate to it?
If so, I’m jealous. I’m also angry that we’ve been robbed of great content.
Also, please please please don’t trivialize this! On behalf of so many people who have never seen themselves in anything mainstream, it IS a big deal to us. Most of us never realized that this is how it feels to be represented and see yourself on screen.
That’s a serious tragedy and you can’t deny that.
I’d also like to point out that Never Have I Ever has disappointed some Indian watchers because it wasn’t everything they hoped for, and that’s okay. Obviously, one good series isn’t going to solve all the rep issues and India is a hugely diverse country (definitely more diverse than the USA or Britain or whatever, fight me on that)– so one TV series isn’t going to be able to capture everyone’s experiences. And personally, I’m much more in tune with my culture than Devi and I’m not as boy-obsessed as she is, but her experiences are valid too.
*So regarding my comment about white people’s families being a lot different from mine and many other people of color, it’s true. I spent several years in a predominantly white area where everyone was Catholic and blonde and ate boring food and yawn and I’m currently living in a place with a ton of Asians and Indians and my experiences are so different from then.
When we lived in the white people place, our neighbors would eat at five PM and go to church often and go to the mall with friends and get normal punishments from their parents like taking away their phone and go to like one extra-curricular and their home would smell of white-person-food all the time (sorry XD but we all know American and British food is the blandest and boringest of all time).
Meanwhile, we ate at 8 PM consistently, went to the temple occasionally and only for music events (we pray at home most of the time or just don’t pray often), I’ve basically only been to the mall with friends once, and we had parents with us, I occasionally get smacked (yes, still an acceptable punishment in some communities smh), I do freaking eight extra-curriculars, and my house smells like dosas and sambar all the time.
When we moved here, it was so different because everyone’s homes smelled like actual food, too. XD just kidding,,, but actually, I’m not.
But I digress. That’s not my point.
M point is that Never Have I Ever is flawed, yes, but it’s a step in the right direction for Hollywood and it made me feel seen and valid.
My point is that white people and people of color should ALL push for more diversity in media because it really, really matters. I wish that previous generations could have grown up seeing people like them doing all kinds of cool stuff on TV and although we haven’t solved the representation crisis yet, I’m thankful for stories like these existing in my time.
Also, I know I just finished my whole StayHomeWriMo challenge where I was commended on writing diverse stories so much (btw thanks y’all, ilysm) but for me it’s basically second nature because of everything I just explained. I really want to be seen in the media, which is why I do everything I can to make others seen, too.
I actually had to go out of my way to write white people and dudes which is weird but yeah XD
All I ask is that you guys actually make an effort to write more diverse characters in your work because maybe I offered you a fresh point of view. Everything you do to promote diverse, #OwnVoies authors and filmmakers matters to us, a lot.
So yeah, here’s my rant.
I hope you learned something and if you read all the way to the end, you are amazing!! This felt so freeing and it’s been a while since I’ve written a serious post.
Can you relate to everything I said in my post? Are you a person of color, specifically an Indian or South Asian? Have you experienced diaspora or not getting representation?
Do you want to watch Never Have I Ever? Have you already watched it, and what did you think? All Indians reading this, I especially recommend watching it!!
Will you promise to *try* and write more diverse characters? (we’re not that hard to write XD I promise we’re just like you)
(by the way, I would love to engage in a friendly debate about everything I brought up about race in this post, HOWEVER, I will not be putting myself in situations where I feel like I have to apologize for anything I said in this post- where I already felt like I needed to censor myself- because an entitled troll thinks that bias in the media doesn’t exist. girl, bye. ya canceled!)