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  • Joshua John

In HBO's 2023 Scooby-Doo Spin-Off, Velma Dinkley is Indian

The Scooby-Doo franchise is one of the best known cartoon serials worldwide. However, in HBO’s new 2023 spin-off Velma, Scooby, the cartoon dog we all know and love, will remain behind the scenes. The show aims instead to paint the mystery-busting gang in a new light. In this version, many of the characters are reimagined as people of color.

This time around, Velma Dinkley is portrayed as Indian.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, executive producer and voice of the titular character, Mindy Kaling, discussed the choice. Kaling explained, “We knew it would be fun for me to play Velma, but we had a conversation where Velma is white, and we have this new choice to do the show and if I’m voicing her, should she be white or should she not?”

Kaling is acclaimed for her work in The Office (2002), The Mindy Project (2012), and creating the coming-of-age show Never Have I Ever (2020). Never Have I Ever tells the story of an Indian American girl dealing with the death of her father, which Kaling claims was based, “in the spirit of [her] childhood.” These projects each offer pieces of the Indian American experience that work to defy persistent stereotypes in the media.

Kaling added that she does "think of the characters in this as so iconic, but in no way is the gang defined by their whiteness…”

What does it mean for Velma to be portrayed as South Asian? Kaling responded that she’s always resonated with the character: “I think most Indian-American girls when they see this skeptical, hardworking, kind of under-appreciated character, can identify with her."

Other members of the gang will be voiced and portrayed as people of color. Daphne and Shaggy will be voiced by award nominated actors Constance Wu and Sam Richardson.

Unlike before, the new show will also follow the gang’s romantic lives. It was confirmed in 2020 by James Gunn, a writer of the live-action Scooby-Doo movie series, that Velma was written to be “explicitly gay” for his 2001 movie. Instead, the studio continued to downplay this until in the sequel, she was portrayed with a boyfriend. However, in HBO’s Velma, Kaling confirmed this aspect of her character will be explored firsthand. In an Instagram post, Kaling wrote, “Velma will struggle to navigate the pitfalls of high school, her budding sexuality, and a serial killer intent on murdering every popular kid in town.”

The announcement for HBO’s Velma follows a national debate over whether media remakes should change the race of characters from previous iterations. Disney’s 2023 The Little Mermaid features Black actress Halle Bailey as Ariel, the iconic red-haired protagonist. Other productions that sparked conversations over people of color playing previously white characters include Hamilton (2016), Bridgerton (2020), Annie (2014), Cinderella (1997) and more. Supporters agree with Kaling; characters such as Velma and Ariel are not defined by their whiteness. As such, depicting them as people of color presents an opportunity for ethnic representation in media that often lacks it.

In an 2021 article for Psychology Today, Dr. Kevin Leo Yabut Nadal, a Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the City University of New York, argues that representation in media is especially important because positive portrayals of marginalized groups can both increase their self esteem and dispel harmful stereotypes. Furthermore, it can validate marginalized people’s experiences and help them navigate a world of microaggressions.

HBO’s approach to Velma Dinkley creates a new intersectional identity for the classic and well-known character. Such a portrayal has the potential to provide solace for marginalized persons who fall into one or more of these groups, reassuring them they are not alone. An NBC News Article in 2019 found that “19 percent of Asian American and Pacific Islander LGBTQ youth said they could ‘definitely’ be themselves at home, while 29 percent said they could ‘definitely’ be themselves at school.” Kaling’s portrayal of Velma offers an inclusive perspective of what it means to be an LGBTQ+ Asian American woman.

The trailer for Velma directly takes shots at the culture war over changing the race of previously white characters. The opening scene pans a dark house with a mailbox labeled “Velma Dinkley.” The audience is only shown Velma’s silhouette, as she paces back and forth, writing a complaint to HBO Max regarding how they changed Judy Jetson’s personality. Finally, Velma’s face is centered as she exclaims “At least Judy’s still white!”

Reminiscent of how the gang operated in previous serieses, she gets a call from an ominous caller inviting her to solve mysteries. Jinkies!

Velma is set to premiere on HBO Max in 2023.


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