Nov 24, 2021 1 min, 27 secs
“I’m super sex positive,” Bela tells her new roommates, the other main characters of Mindy Kaling’s new HBO show, “The Sex Lives of College Girls.”.

Sex has long been either a defining or alienating feature for South Asian women in Western cinema.

But missing even in more inclusive portrayals is a South Asian girl who is purely confident and clear about what she wants, viewers said.

“What I really appreciated about Bela was the lack of soul-searching and hand-wringing,” said Harleen Singh, associate professor of women’s studies and South Asian literature at Brandeis University.

“I think that Bela is a lot more brave and outgoing than many of us were,” Sakhuja-Walia said.

While the character’s Indian background isn’t the center of her college experience, she says South Asian women can pick up on the story behind her motivations. 

But with a generation of first-generation South Asian Americans becoming adults, characters like Bela might represent a turning point in how communities treat sexuality. 

Movies and shows in which South Asian characters are normal and desirable are slowly beginning to emerge, but it’s an area in which Hollywood has historically had a problem. 

Singh points to movies like "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," in which the only nonwhite women are oppressed under the violence of evil, monkey-brain-eating Indians, and “the only woman that’s allowed to be beautiful is the white woman.”

In the Harry Potter movies, coy and irritating Parvati and Padma slink in the vicinity of the main characters, hoping to be noticed by them but ultimately being cast aside and ignored. 

Kaling’s last project, “Never Have I Ever,” marked a change — an open door for South Asian American main characters, Singh said


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