NBC’s New Show “I Feel Bad” Has A South Asian Female Lead – But It’s Still Problematic

This past Sunday, NBC released an official trailer for its new show, “I Feel Bad,” which is set to premiere this fall. Up-and-coming Indian-American actress Sarayu Rao plays the lead role of Emet, American actor Paul Adelstein plays Emet’s love interest.

NBC’s casting decision is a pretty big deal. Only two other Indian actresses, Mindy Kaling and Priyanka Chopra, either currently have or have had their own shows. But while “I Feel Bad” is receiving praise for casting a South Asian female lead – a pro-diversity cue in line with other long-standing big names in the media industry – the show is still problematic for one reason: Rao’s character is in an on-screen interracial relationship with a white man. Yet again.

The thing is, diversity means more than simply casting the token brown girl. Audiences crave to see interracial relationships that more accurately reflect real life, and those are the facts. In her Jezebel piece “I’m Tired of Watching Brown Men Fall in Love With White Women On Screen,” writer Aditi Natasha Kini argues that choosing white partners for on-screen interracial relationships is a discreet slap in the face to other races:

“…the pursuit of white love is a mode of acceptance into American culture, and a way of ‘transcending’ the confines of immigrant culture—the notion that white love is a gateway drug to the American dream.”

She’s right. What’s even a bigger disappointment is that when the people producing the shows or movies are people of color, they’re still letting audiences down by failing to use their privilege and platforms as a way to showcase more inclusivity. Mindy Kaling’s “The Mindy Project” and Kumail Nanjiani’s film “The Big Sick” are just two examples of that disappointment manifested.

Real inclusivity means showing the full spectrum of interracial relationships: Gay ones. Transgender ones. Brown people falling in love with black people, and brown people falling in love with other brown people.

The good news is that even though the silver screen has yet to catch on, the big screen has already started to. “Crazy Rich Asians,” which has been referred to as “the Asian version of Black Panther,” shows Asian-Americans in relationships with other Asian-Americans. People are freaking out about it, and rightfully so:

Screen Shot 2018-05-19 at 11.55.47 AM

Let’s hope the coming years begin to show more… erhm, interesting interracial relationships on screen.


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