Opinion: Hollywood's casting choices when it comes to race and romance do leave impressions on its viewers
Why is it that “The Mindy Project's” title character has exclusively dated white men?
It's really a rather simple observational question to ask. Yet, the answer can get us into some very deep discussions about how we look at race and the messages such casting decisions telegraph to the show's viewers.
You may find this line of questioning strange for a show led by and starring a talented woman of color. It opens us up to a twist on the idea of diversity representation in entertainment where the lead character is a minority, a step in the right direction that should be applauded but that may be marred by the choices made for her objects of affection.
On Fox's “The Mindy Project,” Dr. Mindy Lahiri — played by show creator, executive producer and star Mindy Kaling — a natural at her job who lives her life in search of the perfect romantic comedy relationship.
Season 1 depicted Mindy making a fool of herself at her ex's wedding, going on really terrible dates, carrying on a tortured flirtation with a fellow doctor and later finding love and taking a break from her practice for a handsome Christian pastor. There was definitely an ensemble of distinct personalities in that group of suitors, though they were all Caucasian.
“The Mindy Project” isn't alone in these kind of casting decisions. ABC's “Scandal,” for example, revolves around an otherwise totally in control black female lead character, Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), who finds herself losing it over the country's very handsome – and white – president.
Though she hasn't exclusively dated white men like Mindy has, the only other guy that has really been able to take Olivia's thoughts off President Grant (Tony Goldwyn) has been a mysterious government agent played by Scott Foley, who's also white. Like “The Mindy Project,” “Scandal” is the creation and vision of a minority woman, Shonda Rhimes.
So, really, am I out of line for calling out “The Mindy Project” for something that occurs all over the small screen? Maybe, but that doesn't mean the questions aren't worthy of being asked.
What's the message being sent when minority female characters on television exclusively date and regularly lose themselves with white men? And, does it really matter if viewers aren't even noticing or seem unaffected by the leading lady's dating choices?
I would venture to say that it does matter and that the message being sent to young minority women who watch “The Mindy Project” – whether they realize it or not — is that the measure of success is not just working your way to the top of your profession but that the ideal signifier for that success is a white partner.
And as for non-white men watching the show, it only reinforces the prevailing standard of attraction that ranks them lower on the desirability scale in our culture.
It taps into some very deeply ingrained beliefs about race that have become so natural to us that we don't even notice them anymore. Except, I contend that we do on a very deep level and it affects how we feel about ourselves and how we feel others feel about us.
That's not to say that “The Mindy Project,” a young show only in its second season, doesn't have plans to have Mindy date men from diverse racial backgrounds in the future. But, it hasn’t done so yet and it's probably high time that it does.