When a Warner Bros. representative announced last week that “Scooby-Doo” character Velma Dinkley would be reprised as East Asian in Mindy Kaling’s new adult HBO Max show, Twitter went into a frenzy with racist and Scooby traditionalist comments.
“Well she’s not Velma then is she,” one person tweeted.
“velma’s not real, sis,” another user responded.
The slew of complaints that brought Velma to the trending page were followed by an equal number of fans defending Kaling’s decision, pointing out something the haters were missing about an East Asian version of the character: It’s already been done.
“Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” the original animated show that inspired several remakes, was created in 1969 and only ran for a year on CBS. It featured a cast of all white characters, voiced by all white actors, and their dog, Scooby. It’s been reimagined many times since then, including several cartoon and live-action versions.
Over the decades, 12 actresses have voiced animated Velma and four others have played her in live-action adaptations. In the “Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins” and “Scooby-Doo! Curse of the Lake Monster,” live remakes from 2009 and 2010, Velma was portrayed by Hayley Kiyoko, an actress and singer of Japanese descent. Gina Rodriguez, a Puerto Rican actress, voiced Velma in the 2020 animated movie “Scoob!” where the character also had darker skin.
Pitfalls of reimagining characters as people of color
Though some on Twitter made openly racist comments about Kaling’s new venture, some shared concerns that the portrayal of the nerdy Velma as an Asian American plays into the model minority myth that Asians are inherently hardworking and studious.
Sociologist Nancy Wang Yuen said side characters like Velma have the potential to fall into that trap if they’re one-dimensional. But if the new show is built around her and gives her a well-rounded arc with her own friends and love interests, that can be avoided.
“I grew up with ‘Scooby-Doo’ and Velma, and for sure I could really see her as East Asian,” Yuen said. “Hopefully not in a model minority way but a quirky way that’s kind of bookish but she’s multifaceted. The fact that she could be nerdy, that was kind of revolutionary back then.”
Controversy and racism often ensues when people of color are cast in traditionally white roles. In 1997, a live adaptation of “Cinderella” featured Black singer and songwriter Brandy in the titular role. While the film is remembered now as a classic, it was met with racist comments from both viewers and industry professionals. A similar backlash followed the announcement of singer Halle Bailey’s casting as Ariel in an upcoming live-action version of “The Little Mermaid.”
A “Scooby-Doo” fan herself, Yuen said she hopes Kaling’s team doesn’t just slap an Asian face onto the character but instead develops a backstory that’s in line with her racial…