"Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is adding music and style of dance."
"Diversity without inclusion is violence."
"Never Have I Ever" is the perfect blend of diversity and inclusion and a delightful coming of age story to boot.
Here are 5 ways the show is a great example of diversity and inclusion.
- The protagonist Devi's last name is Vishwakumar. Every single person in the show pronounces it easily without hesitation. Her last name isn't a punch line where no one can pronounce it. She doesn't have to correct anyone. It rolls off everyone's tongue as easily as "Smith" or "Johnson." Devis' last name and other characters' interactions with it don't make her "other".
- The heartthrob of the story's name is Paxton Hall-Yoshida. Producer and writer Mindy Kaling added "Yoshida" when she found out that the actor Darren Barnett is half Japanese. Paxton speaks in Japanese on a phone call, casually explains why and the world doesn't stop. It doesn't turn into a "very special episode" where he grapples with the Asian part of himself. It is simply a fact subsequently making the character more interesting and nuanced.
- Paxton's sister is white and has down-syndrome. Soon after we learn that Paxton is half Asian we learn that his white sister Rebecca is adopted and has down-syndrome. Paxton is protective of her because she's been bullied in the past. Rebecca is smart, fashionable, applying for fashion school and ends up being the catalyst for a major plot point at the end of the first season. Again, no "after school special" just a character who gets to be who they are without excuse or justification.
- Devi's best friends are people of color. Eleanor is Chinese and Fabiola is Black and Mexican. It's already groundbreaking that "Never Have I Ever" features an Indian female as its lead. Some producers might overcompensate and have at least one friend be White. Instead the audience experiences diversity on many levels including the friends' parents who are not stereotypical (Both of Devi's love interests are White and White presenting but that is a whole other conversation. I do appreciate that Devi's cousin Kamala has a boyfriend who is Chinese.)
- Devi's therapist Dr. Jamie Ryan is Black. As a black actress I can't count how many times I have auditioned for the therapist to a twenty or thirty something white protagonist. The black therapist is as much of a trope as the sassy black friend or magical negro. When the black therapist is helping a young woman of color the trope becomes something else. It speaks to a black therapist understanding the challenges a young woman of color faces even if that isn't what they talk about. When Devi's mother has a session with the therapist it is two women of color in synchronicity; a beautiful rarely seen dynamic.
Bonus: Iqbal Theba makes an "appearance" toward the end of the series as Devi's Uncle. He literally makes an entrance from behind a refrigerator door and I like to think it was Mindy Kaling's way of paying homage to this stalwart character actor who I've only seen in smaller roles. In "Never Have I Ever" he is featured in multiple scenes and it was a joy to see the actor relax intro a character with major status in the family.
Whatever music is being played and whatever dance is being danced "Never Have I Ever" has room for everyone. I highly recommend it.