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The Student Newspaper of Hopkins School

    • Cartoon by Hailey Willey ’25.

Never Have I Ever... Felt More Represented On-Screen

Asher Joseph ’25 Op/Ed Editor
According to tennis legend John McEnroe, narrator of Mindy Kaling’s hit Netflix show “Never Have I Ever,” “Aunties are older Indian women who have no blood relation to you, but are allowed to have opinions about your life and all your shortcomings and you have to be nice to them because you’re Indian.”
According to tennis legend John McEnroe, narrator of Mindy Kaling’s hit Netflix show “Never Have I Ever,” “Aunties are older Indian women who have no blood relation to you, but are allowed to have opinions about your life and all your shortcomings and you have to be nice to them because you’re Indian.”

Throughout my life, I have confronted two types of aunties: “older Indian women” who insist that I eat another serving of biryani because I have become “too skinny,” and my peers. While those who fit the traditional definition indulge in spilling the chai about everything and everyone, the latter has — on occasion — confined me to the Indian stereotype. Especially in middle school, I was often likened to stereotypical Disney Channel characters such as Ravi from “Jessie” and Baljeet from “Phineas & Ferb,” both of whom are characterized
by academic devotion, humorous social ineptitude, and inexplicable Indian accents. Despite the teasing, I felt obligated to defend these characters, as I rarely had the opportunity to see my Indian-American identity reflected in media. However, the release of the hit Netflix show “Never Have I Ever” not only revolutionized South Asian representation on-screen, but helped me realize my experience was not an anomaly.

The original series first aired on Netflix in April 2020, experiencing a meteoric rise to the number one spot of the streaming service’s “Top 10” list. Created by “The Office” alum Mindy Kaling, “Never Have I Ever” follows the quintessential teen romcom plot of a high school nerd whose life is turned upside down by a budding romance with the school golden boy — but with a South Asian twist. Devi Vishwakumar, a first-generation Indian-American teenager, serves as the show’s protagonist as she navigates high school in the wake of her father’s untimely death. She enters her sophomore year equipped with a plan to salvage her tarnished social reputation as the “girl whose dad died”: lose her virginity to the hottest guy in school, Paxton Hall-Yoshida.
This proves nearly impossible under the watchful eye of her no-nonsense mother, in the shadow of her gorgeous cousin, and under the torment of her academic rival. Still, Devi is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve her version of the American teenage dream.

While many have lauded the series for its resonant depiction of a teenager who happens to be Indian-American, others have criticized the inclusion of stereotypes such as the Asian “tiger mom” trope and Devi’s internalized racism. “Never Have I Ever” embraces the defining clichés that have shaped the trajectory of South Asian representation in media by applying them to its characters in the appropriate context. Many
stereotypes are often the mere distortion of truth — for example, India does have a historically competitive academic culture and this does influence emigrants’ values. Despite their historically negative connotations, these tropes contribute to a realistic characterization of the Indian-American experience without overt exaggeration. Rather than centering the entirety of Devi’s personality around stereotypical academic excellence and accompanying social awkwardness, they are reduced to facets of her identity that she rails against in order to foster growth and independence.

Perhaps Devi’s most blatant rejection of static representation is encapsulated by one of the show’s central conflicts: boys. South Asian characters are often depicted as romantically undesirable due to the aforementioned stereotypes and their exclusion from eurocentric beauty standards; however, by painting Devi as the object of not one, but two boys’ affection (one of which being — as McEnroe would say — “Paxton Freaking Hall- Yoshida!”), “Never Have I Ever” debunks the myth that South Asian characters must conform to a certain archetype and are therefore undeserving of a romantic storyline.

By rejecting the amplification of these traits and grounding its characters in the harmless origins of their
stereotypes, “Never Have I Ever” depicts its Indian-American lead as a teenager whose identity is influenced by her ethnicity, not defined by it. Some viewers claim that the inclusion of “stereotypical” aspects of South Asia identity only reinforces the idea that South Asians characters must perpetuate stereotypes. Excluding such South Asian-specific details, however, would only detract from Devi’s representative value. The harsh reality is that these manifestations of internalized racism are ever-present and flourish in teenagers, who, whether we like it or not, are already susceptible to insecurity. Furthermore, the inclusion of these stereotypes is physical evidence of Devi’s evolving relationship with her culture and identity, which proves to be a tricky path for many first-generation Americans. “Never Have I Ever” accurately narrates the never-ending struggle to synthesize the dichotomy of one’s ethnicity and nationality into a blended, intersectional identity that does not discriminate against either “half.”

At the end of the day, representation in media is inherently incomplete given that acting is only a mimicry of real life, meaning that the dramatization of any experience can only be authentic to a certain extent. Nonetheless, writers such as Mindy Kaling have worked to ensure that the source material that informs an actor’s performance reflects the experience being portrayed.By depictingDevi not as a stereotype, but rather as an Indian-American teenager just trying to embody the classic high school experience, Netflix has given me what I’ve always wanted: relatable characters, polarizing love triangles, and cringey dialogue galore, all from the SouthAsian perspective. I defend Devi, unlike characters I have previously encountered, not out of obligation to my heritage, but out of admiration for a South Asian protagonist whose mistakes flout the model minority stereotype even as they exemplify her teenagehood.

After three years of flings, fights, and friendships, I am eager to see what waits for Devi and her friends in the final season, which will be released on June 8. “Never Have I Ever”... felt more represented on-screen.
Editor in Chief 
Asher Joseph

Managing Editor 
Margaret Russell

Claire Billings
Jo Reymond
Rose Porosoff
Eric Roberts
Abby Rakotomavo
Elona Spiewak
Veena Scholand
Miriam Levin
Liliana Dumas
Saisha Ghai
Olivia Yu
Anya Mahajan
Rain Zeng
Winter Szarabajka
Aerin O'Brien

Karun Srihari
Samantha Bernstein
Hana Beauregard
Micah Betts
Elaina Paktuka
Edel Lee
Anjali van Bladel
Nate Gerber
Rebecca Li

Hailey Willey
Web Editors
Amelia Hudonogov-Foster
Anvi Pathak
Chloe Wang

Faculty Advisers
Stephen May
Elizabeth Gleason
Shanti Madison
The Razor's Edge reflects the opinion of 4/5 of the editorial board and will not be signed. The Razor welcomes letters to the editor but reserves the right to decide which letters to publish, and to edit letters for space reasons. Unsigned letters will not be published, but names may be withheld on request. Letters are subject to the same libel laws as articles. The views expressed in letters are not necessarily those of the editorial board.
The Razor,
 an open forum publication, is published monthly during the school year by students of: 
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