When a representative of Warner Bros. announced last week that ‘Scooby-Doo’ character Velma Dinkley would be featured as an Asian on Mindy Kaling’s new HBO adult show Max, Twitter has entered a frenzy of racist and traditionalist comments from Scooby.
“Well, she’s not Velma so is she,” one person tweeted.
“Velma is not real, sister,” replied another user.
The multitude of complaints that brought Velma to the trending page were followed by an equal number of fans defending Kaling’s decision, pointing out something enemies lacked about an East Asian version of the character: it’s already done.
“Scooby-Doo, where are you! The original animated show, which inspired several remakes, premiered in 1969 and only lasted a year on CBS. It featured a cast of all white characters, voiced by all white actors, and their dog, Scooby. It has been reinvented several times since then, including several cartoon and live-action versions.
Over the decades, 12 actresses have voiced Animated Velma and four more have played her in live-action adaptations. In the “Scooby-Doo!” The Mystery Begins ”and“ Scooby-Doo! Curse of the Lake Monster, ”from the 2009 and 2010 live-action remakes, Velma was played by Hayley Kiyoko, a Japanese actress and singer. Gina Rodriguez, a Puerto Rican actress, voiced Velma in the 2020 animated film “Scoob!” Where the character also had darker skin tone.
Pitfalls of re-imagining characters as people of color
While some on Twitter have made overtly racist comments about Kaling’s new venture, some have shared concerns that nerdy Velma’s portrayal as an Asian American plays into the model minority myth that Asians are inherently hardworking and studious.
Sociologist Nancy Wang Yuen has said that secondary characters like Velma have the potential to fall into this trap if they are one-dimensional. But if the new show is built around her and gives her a well-balanced arc with her own friends and love interests, it can be avoided.
“I grew up with ‘Scooby-Doo’ and Velma, and of course I could really see her as being from East Asia,” Yuen said. “I hope it’s not in a model minority way, but in an eccentric way that’s a bit bookish but it’s multi-faceted. The fact that she could be out of date was a bit revolutionary at the time.
Controversy and racism often ensue when people of color are chosen in traditionally white roles. In 1997, a live-action adaptation of “Cinderella” featured black singer and songwriter Brandy in the lead role. While the film is now remembered as a classic, it was greeted with racist comments from viewers and industry professionals. A similar reaction followed the announcement of singer Halle Bailey’s casting as Ariel in an upcoming live-action version of “The Little Mermaid.”
A fan of “Scooby-Doo,” Yuen said she hoped Kaling’s team wouldn’t just slap an Asian face on the character, but instead develop a story in keeping with her racial and cultural identity. She also sees the need for Asian American stories rather than just reimagining old favorites.
“It’s lazy for Hollywood to just try to use old material and try to refresh it when they could actually create real freshness by centering people of color, centering BIPOC stories rather than ‘just trying to rearrange the old stories,’ she said, referring to Black people, Indigenous people and other people of color.
While this retraining does not meet the need for representation of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Hollywood, Yuen approached Velma as a child and said she thought seeing her as an American. of Asian descent could be fun.
“As a person who was an African American female nerd, a person who was geek and nerdy but in fashion and all kinds of things, I hope she can be a lot more than the nerd,” he said. she declared.
Velma, an LGBTQ icon
Fans on Twitter also noted that not only should Velma be a person of color, but she should be gay as well.
Last year, “Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated producer Tony Cervone posted on Instagram that Velma was indeed meant to be gay in his adaptation, which ran from 2010 to 2013. Cervone said in his post that the character was destined to have a romantic relationship with Marcie Fleach, her rival on the show.
Due to an early cancellation, the two were unable to “act on their feelings.”
Yuen acknowledged how important Velma’s character is to fans, including herself, but encouraged fans to put the debate into perspective.
“He’s a fictional character,” she said. “Scooby-Doo and the gang – it was a talking dog. Somebody say, ‘This character is supposed to be that’, I mean, come on. “