Mindy Kaling's Biggest Controversies Through The Years

Mindy Kaling arrived at a seminal time for female Millennials making their mark on the comedic landscape, and arguably forever changed it. Along with her fellow 2010s comedy queens Lena Dunham and adorkable "New Girl" Zooey Deschanel, Kaling brought a unique perspective into the sitcom zeitgeist. And as a woman of color taking the lead in a mainstream TV show, she helped facilitate South Asian representation in US comedy, a demographic that was shamefully absent from our screens for many decades (despite South Asians making up almost 2% of the population).

For all the good that she has done, however, she has also faced a major backlash. From the outset of her career breakthrough, Kaling has proved herself something of a controversy magnet, with critics taking issue with everything from her choice of onscreen partners to her apparent unwillingness to discuss certain topics in her work.

However, some contend that this controversy is largely unfounded and misguided. Namely, as a woman of color in an apparently white centric industry, she arguably faces a far more vitriolic backlash than her white peers. "No one asks any of the shows I adore — and I won't name them because they're my friends — why no leads on their shows are women or of color, and I'm the one that gets lobbied about these things," she once said at South by Southwest festival (via Entertainment Tonight). "People have a higher expectation for me." From contentious characterizations to shady family drama, let's unpack Mindy Kaling's biggest controversies through the years.

Critics branded Velma disastrous

There were high hopes for Mindy Kaling's HBO series "Velma," which boasts a veritable cast of voice actors including "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" star Glenn Howerton as Fred and Constance Wu as Daphne. Kaling, who also serves as executive producer, voices the title character, who is reimagined as South Asian and bisexual. HuffPost gave the series a positive review, nothing that many of the characterizations that critics deemed unpalatable were in fact true to the original "Scooby-Doo," i.e. Fred being a white man who relies solely on his privilege to prove he's the smartest guy in the room and Daphne's vacuousness.

Despite some positive reviews, the audience reaction to "Velma" has been brutal. Right-wing reactionaries hate the series due to its diversity and LGBTQ themes, leading to outlandish conspiracies that Kaling made a show so terrible in its supposed wokeness as a means of deliberately riling up culture war pundits, per Forbes. Meanwhile, the left also hated it, with many pointing out a number of problematic jokes. For instance, Velma makes a bizarre jibe that appears to attack the MeToo movement, "I spit truth without a filter, like every comedian before hashtag MeToo." Moreover, the show was criticized for seemingly making light of sickle cell, which is an illness that predominantly affects Black people.

But the "Velma" backlash has been unusually venomous. As AV Club posits, much of this appears a racist dogwhistle, with certain audiences objecting to a woman of color taking center stage in a popular franchise.

She was accused of Islamophobia

Mindy Kaling has faced accusations of Islamophobia since the pilot of "The Mindy Project." The episode sees Mindy's OBGYN treat a pregnant Muslim woman who doesn't have insurance, only to castigate her colleagues for allowing the patient into the hospital. "Do you care about my career and want me to succeed?" she complains, per Media Diversified. "Then why are you sending me non-English-speaking pregnant immigrants with no health insurance? With literally like burqas?" It should be noted that the character is not wearing a burqa, but rather, a hijab. 

Subsequently, the outlet theorizes that Kaling, who is from a Hindu background, appears to feel that she has a free pass to throw shade at Muslims. This apparently Islamophobic trope would rear its head time and time again throughout the series. For instance, Mindy accuses Muslim folks of being terrorists in another episode, as Catapult highlights.

Kaling was again accused of utilizing Islamophobic tropes in her series "Never Have I Ever." In a Season 1 episode, two South Asians refuse to sit next to a woman at a party simply because she married a Muslim man, with the latter remarking, "Can't risk it right now. We're already borderline outcasts." Accordingly, Muslim accused Kaling of blatant Islamophobia, arguing that she was deliberately excluding Muslims from the series' South Asian representation. However, Kaling later made amends by introducing Muslim character Aneesa in Season 2.

Mindy Kaling faced backlash for her abortion remarks

Since "The Mindy Project" centered around a protagonist who was a gynecologist, many viewers expected the topic of abortion to arise. However, Mindy Kaling generated controversy when she said that she had no intention of ever covering the topic on the show. Addressing the issue in an interview with Flare (via Celeb***hy), she said, "It would be demeaning to the topic to talk about it in a half-hour sitcom."

She was heavily criticized for the remark, which detractors considered demeaning in itself. Salon argued that abortion was central to Mindy's profession, so by evading the topic she was buying into the outmoded notion that respectable women don't have terminations. The outlet also noted that numerous half-hour sitcoms that preceded "The Mindy Project," such as "Maude" and "Roseanne," covered the subject back in the day. Meanwhile, Slate suggested that Kaling was obligated to address the topic, since 3 out of 10 women in the USA have had abortions.

Speaking to HuffPost amid the backlash, she clarified her comments, explaining that she was exclusively talking about her sitcom being unable to tackle the topic, as opposed to half-hour sitcoms in general. "My show is not about gynecological issues that much," she reasoned. "It's about a workplace ... It's hard to say those things and not sound like I'm not skirting the issue, but at the same time, our show from the get-go hasn't made its centerpiece to focus on political issues."

Detractors think Mindy Kaling is trying to appease white audiences

One of the biggest criticisms that Mindy Kaling has faced throughout her career is her supposed obsession with whiteness. Critics have long accused her of centering her works around white people at the expense of her own South Asian heritage. The Washington Post suggests that some have misinterpreted "The Mindy Project" as woke simply because the series has a woman of color as the lead. However, the outlet propounds, the series blatantly avoided the topic of race throughout its run, seemingly in a bid to appeal to white audiences. Rather, Mindy's onscreen alter ego was presented as a girlboss obsessed with white women like Reese Witherspoon.

Likewise, Al Jazeera America posited that Kaling was far from a role model for Asian women, instead rehashing old romcom cliches without addressing what it means to be a minority in the US. Moreover, the publication accuses Kaling of distancing herself from her fellow South Asians entirely, pinpointing the Season 3 episode "Stanford" as the ultimate manifestation of this (in the episode, Mindy reiterates that she has nothing in common with an Indian character, declaring she's "from Boston, baby").

Although Kaling has addressed these controversies by focusing on the marginalization of women of color in "Never Have I Ever," the topic arose again with "Velma." One Twitter user wrote that Kaling was rehashing her detrimental trope of depicting South Asian women as self-loathing. "I can't imagine being young and already self conscious and then seeing that portrayal," they lamented. 

Mindy Kaling got dragged into the controversy surrounding her brother

In 2015, it was revealed that Mindy Kaling's brother, Vijay Chokal-Ingam, faked being Black in order to get into med school. On his website, he boasted about concocting the offensive plan, which formed the basis for his book, "Almost Black." "I wasn't a minority. So I became one," he explained. "I shaved my head, trimmed my long Indian eyelashes, and applied as an African America n... Vijay, the Indian American frat boy, became Jojo, the African American med school applicant." 

In a statement to Us Magazine, Kaling said that she was unaware of her brother's plan and remained estranged from him. But in an interview with Page Six, Vijay claimed that Kaling did indeed know about his scheme, and had a history of plotting against her family and friends. "My sister has engineered similar public and private plots against her many frenemies in Hollywood," he alleged. "If Mindy thinks twice about stabbing someone else in the back because of what I've written, then I'm doing her a big favor."

Since the controversy, Vijay has expressed numerous problematic views, including denouncing affirmative action as "reverse racism" and an avowed support for Donald Trump, resulting in some criticizing Kaling for her brother's behavior. But it should be noted that women aren't responsible for the questionable actions of the men in their lives. Just because her brother has spewed racist talking points it doesn't mean Kaling, who supports Black Lives Matter, shares or condones them.

She was accused of using the controversial drug Ozempic

The drug Ozempic — and celebs' apparent love of it — has been making the rounds as a major talking point on social media. Accordingly, when a star loses a ton of weight, critics are quick to accuse them of misusing Ozempic. According to a 2019 study, the drug is primarily prescribed for the management of type 2 diabetes. However, as Vice notes, many people who are not diabetic have been misusing the drug in order to quickly lose weight. Since the drug is pricey, this trend has been prevalent among celebrities wealthy enough to afford the price tag.

When she appeared on the Oscars red carpet in 2023, fans noticed that Mindy Kaling had lost a significant amount of weight, leading to accusations that she's been using Ozempic. "Mindy Kaling threw the first brick at the Ozempic factory," tweeted one fan. However, as Grazia highlights, the Ozempic backlash has proven to be yet another means of shaming women for their bodies, this time under the seemingly legitimized but nonetheless toxic guise of concern.

In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Kaling addressed the fluctuations in her weight, which she attributed to the demands of motherhood and her hefty workload. But she dismissed notions that she was dieting or utilizing dangerous means of losing weight. "I eat what I like to eat," she said. "If I do any kind of restrictive diet, it never really works for me."

If you need help with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

Mindy Kaling apparently made light of sexual assault

In the post-MeToo era, there is more awareness than ever surrounding the importance of consent when filming love scenes. But, to paraphrase Randy Marsh, 2015 was a different time and audiences were apparently stoked on sexual assault being played for laughs back then.

During an appearance on "Conan," Mindy Kaling seemingly bragged about being so thirsty for her handsome "Mindy Project" co-star Lee Pace that she smooched him despite a kiss not being in the script. Afterwards, she was warned by the show's producers that she could get sued. "I got very scared and then I said, 'You tell anyone and you're fired,'" she quipped, after which the host remarked that she could continue getting away with such behavior. "It's like, he didn't complain about it, it's fine, no one said anything," she added.

When the interview began making the rounds in 2023, Kaling faced a monumental backlash. The Mary Sue argued that Kaling's assertion that Pace is so handsome and desirable that she couldn't control herself is comparable to men claiming that women are "asking for it." Additionally, the outlet suggests that Kaling's apparently flippant attitude towards sexual misconduct elucidates her bizarre aforementioned gag at the expense of the MeToo movement in "Velma." TikTok user Riley Dismore called out Kaling, declaring, "That's gross. It's not funny or cheeky." Dismore pointed out that there was nothing stopping Kaling from consulting with Pace and intimacy coordinators before incorporating the kiss into the scene.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

The Mindy Project was criticized for its lack of diversity

"Please let this date be good. May he have the wealth of Mayor Bloomberg. The personality of Jon Stewart. The face of Michael Fassbender," so said Mindy Kaling's alter ego in "The Mindy Project." This joke is reflective of an accusation that has long plagued the actor: is Mindy Kaling utterly obsessed with white men (including long-time rumored beau BJ Novak)? Chatting to the Los Angeles Times, Kaling conceded that she found such criticisms bizarre. "I think it's too bad that a small minority of people are fixated on the men who are in bed with me," she said. "I think that's a bit specific and weird."

But according to The Wrap, Mindy's dating preference essentially told women of color that whiteness equals desirability, and dating said white guys was thus presented on the show as a measure of a woman's success. Moreover, Jezebel denounced the depiction of the only Black woman on the show, Nurse Tamra, who is stereotypically sassy, positing that this characterization is intrinsically tied to Kaling's adulation of white people.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Kaling maintained that she was being unfairly targeted for her onscreen dating preferences because of her ethnicity. "Do people really wonder on other shows if female leads are dating multicultural people..? I have to become the United Nations of shows?" she pondered.

Mindy Kaling was accused of transphobia

Following the revelations surrounding J.K. Rowling's transphobic views, a myriad of celebs have been quick to distance themselves from the "Harry Potter" author. For instance, the franchise's star, Daniel Radcliffe, stated that Rowling was invalidating trans people's identities. Meanwhile, many critics argue that Rowling's opposition to transgender people being allowed into domestic violence shelters contributes to real world violence against trans women. In 2022, an unsuspecting Mindy Kaling ended up getting dragged into the Rowling drama.

As with so many controversies these days, it all started with a tweet. When a user asked Rowling how she sleeps at night knowing that she has alienated so many of her fans, the author replied, "I read my most recent royalty cheques and find the pain goes away pretty quickly." Subsequently, a social media sleuth discovered that Kaling had liked the offending tweet, leading to an outcry. "I think it's safe to assume Mindy Kaling knew exactly what she was doing when she liked JK Rowling's tweet," tweeted author Saira Rao. Other users expressed their disappointment in Kaling apparently excluding trans women from her feminist principles.

Not everyone was quick to condemn her, however. The Guardian reasoned that the outrage contributed to an inherently racist narrative being spun against the actor, noting that liking one tweet is not tantamount to being a transphobe. Moreover, she has shown support for the trans community: when actor Josie Totah, who starred in Kaling's show "Champions," came out as trans, Kaling tweeted her love for her.