In February, Mindy Kaling announced that she’d be helming Velma, an adult animated comedy for HBO Max focused on the origin story of, uh, Velma, the gal in the orange turtleneck and the big glasses who is arguably the brains of the entire Scooby-Doo operation. The press release stated that Kaling would be voicing the lead character, Velma, and provided little to no other information.
But after it was announced last week that Velma will be portrayed as an Asian woman, some people are (perhaps unsurprisingly) pressed.
According to Vulture, the show will “reimagine what Scooby-Doo would be like if Velma were of East Asian descent and lived in a different world.” Some other crucial changes to this narrative include the absence of the psychedelic van and also, the talking dog.
Fine, standard, and great: a standard retool of a classic that, in 2021, should not cause one single eyelash to flutter. But because tragically Twitter has yet to be dismantled, the seemingly innocuous decision to make Velma—a cartoon character and work of fiction—East Asian was instead met with lots of opinions, thoughts, and concerns.
NBC News reports that both racists and “Scooby-Doo traditionalists,” a group of people whose existence I was previously unaware of, were quite upset with this revelation. Arguably, one could lump the racists in with the traditionalists, as both groups seemed to be angry that Velma, who is white in the cartoon, will be non-white in the other cartoon. (Never mind that Velma was played by Hayley Kiyoko in not one but two live-action adaptations of the Scooby-Dooniverse—that fact is surely irrelevant and too far in the past for people on social media to remember.)
And then there’s an entirely separate group of people who are up in arms about this decision, for entirely different reasons. While the aforementioned cartoon traditionalists are upset that this cartoon woman is not white, other people are upset because they believe casting Velma as East Asian plays into the model minority myth. And others still are vehement that whatever race this cartoon gal is, she better be queer, because the character has been coded as such since time immemorial.
It’s a lot of hoopla for a fictional cartoon crime solver who, if we are being extraordinarily clear here, associates with a bunch of stoners in a van and does the bidding of a talking dog. I’m not saying that there isn’t room for this conversation, but I’d like to urge everyone who is mad about Velma to consider that there are perhaps more worthy outlets for this kind of anger.
For example, please recall Hollywood’s brief flirtation with casting white women as Asian women—arguably something that was worth the anger. Emma Stone squinting her eyes against the blinding Hawaiian sun in Cameron Crowe’s Aloha and Scarlett Johansson being sort of made to look “more Asian” in Ghost and the Shell are now but distant memories, relics of a different time. These controversies were hashed out long ago, but I would still welcome a spirited discussion about the issue of whitewashing in film and television in these contexts, because at least it makes sense.
To flap one’s hands in grief over a cartoon woman being anything other than white is to show your own ass in two distinct ways: one, in that you are racist, and two, an incurable, irrepressible herb.