Recently, there’s been some controversy surrounding the depiction of interracial relationships as seen in popular TV shows like Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, Mindy Kaling’s The Mindy Project, and a lot of Shonda Rhimes’s shows, including Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder.
While people are thrilled to finally see people who look like them on TV, many wonder why so many of these shows feature characters exclusively pining for and dating White men and women?
Since The Mindy Project debuted in the fall of 2012, many people have called Kaling into question about the lack of diversity on and behind the scenes of her show. On the program, Kaling plays Mindy Lahiri, a charming ob/gyn who is looking for love straight out of a rom-com. Lahiri exclusively lusts after and dates White men and is surrounded by a predominantly White cast of characters. People quickly noticed this and called Kaling out, and she responded to the backlash by going on the defensive. In a 2013 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Kaling stated, “Do people really wonder on other shows if female leads are dating multicultural people? Like I owe it to every race and minority and beleaguered person. I have to become the United Nations of shows?”
Aziz Ansari, the popular comedian from NBC’s Parks & Recreation, recently premiered the first season of his semi-autobiographical comedy series, Masters of None, on Netflix. The show is being lauded for showcasing the unique experiences and points of view of South Asians, Black women, Taiwanese men and their parents. But on the show, Ansari’s character, Dev, is a twentysomething looking for love, and it appears he can only find it with White women. While Ansari manages to tell an engaging story with underrepresented minorities, his character specific interest in White women brings his progressive edge to a halt.
And over in Shondaland, we have watched Olivia Pope ping-pong between Jake and Fitz for several seasons, leading many fans of color to question Rhimes’s fixation with mostly Black and White interracial romances. A brief dalliance between Pope and the extremely frigid senator, Edison Davis, was the character’s only foray into the land of Black men (her involvement with Brian White’s Franklin Russell was just a brief sexual relationship) and it ended with her back in the arms of the White love of her life. Some celebrate the fact that a powerful Black woman is depicted in a relationship with a powerful White man on network TV, as these images have never been seen in this light. Others wonder why Rhimes’s characters rarely date any other people of color (aside from the relationship of Dr. Cristina Yang and Dr. Preston Burke on Grey’s Anatomy). From Private Practice to HTGAWM‘s Annalise Keating to a bevy of doctors from Seattle Grace, there does seem to be a pattern: Many Shondaland characters are a part of interracial relationships, but most of those relationships are between POCs and White people.
And ABC’s shows feature more interracial relationships than any other network. Their newest hit drama Quantico focuses on Alex Parrish, an Indian woman and FBI recruit, who is romantically involved with one of her fellow trainees, a White man. Even the character of a young Eddie Huang, the Chinese pre-teen from Fresh Off the Boat, exclusively crushes on White girls.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with interracial dating/love/marriage. It is a sign of our times that this type of love can be shown in a positive light on network TV. But one question hangs in the air:
Why have White people become the default race for the love interest of characters of color on TV?
Is it because the network demands that White people be featured in some romantic capacity so the White viewing public can find someone to connect with? Are those behind Master of None scared that if Ansari dated another South Asian then people wouldn’t be able to connect with it? That if Olivia Pope fell in love with a Black man then it would become a Black show, and they would lose their audience? Or is it because the show’s creators have their own preferences and they call the shots? But what message is it conveying when these shows exclude the possibility of interracial relationships with their POC leads and Latinos, Asians, and Middle Easterners?
In the end, these decisions are made by the people in charge of these shows. They are free to cast anyone they’d like as love interests for their characters. But there is no denying that there is an obvious pattern when it comes to their casting choices. Since there only a handful of shows on network television that feature POC as leads, and are led by people of color, the showrunners shouldn’t be surprised that they have to answer to certain expectations from viewers who look like them. While they may not like being questioned about their decisions for their work, they should know that as long as the pattern continues, people will continue to call them out about it.