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Avantika faces racism for starring in iconic Mean Girls reboot

The popular Mean Girls character Karen Smith has been rebranded as Karen Shetty. Not everyone is happy about the South Indian representation.

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It’s not the first time Indian-American actress Avantika Vandanapu has landed a leading role.

At age 16, Avantika became the first South Asian lead of a Disney Channel movie in the Emmy-nominated film Spin. Before making her Hollywood debut, she acted in Telugu and Tamil films.

The now 19-year-old is starring as Karen in the reboot of the iconic 2004 movie Mean Girls

The original film is widely regarded as a classic, rivalling only Friends and The Simpsons online to be the most cultural product of all time, according to The Guardian.

Amanda Seyfried first brought Karen to life as the easily influenced, sweet, but ditzy member of The Plastics who believed her breasts could predict the weather.

 

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Avantika said she didn’t expect someone brown to play a character known for being blonde, pretty and stupid 20 years later.

“It’s the antithesis of everything that we’ve been told our community is from the very beginning. And while nobody wants to be called dumb, there’s something liberating in feeling like there’s no expectation around our intelligence anymore,” Avantika told Marie Claire.

She said she felt empowered to embrace a character unlike what society has stereotyped Indian people, especially Indian women, to be.

“I hope that it will inspire a new generation of Indian girls to aspire they can truly play out a wide variety of characters if they want to be actors rather than feeling like they have to play the doctor or the nurse or the taxi driver,” Avantika said to PEDESTRIAN.TV.

However, not everyone has been on board with the way Karen Shetty, formerly known as Karen Smith, has defied South Asian stereotypes.

After the official trailer for the 2024 reboot was released, online trolls took to social media.

Avantika screenshotted her favourite reactions and posted them on Instagram with the caption “mean girls”.

 

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“Imagine getting bullied by an Indian girl,” one user posted.

“The head wobble would scare me the most,” another user said.

“Why is one brown,” posted another.

Avantika’s Instagram post attracted a flood of support, particularly from celebrities of South Asian background.

“Why is one brown? Great note, cool guy,” commented actress, screenwriter and producer Mindy Kaling.

“Screw them, you’re gonna shine,” Never Have I Ever lead Maitreyi Ramakrishnan said.

“The only reason I would ever watch this is BECAUSE there’s a brown girl in it. Specifically you. So proud,” posted Never Have I Ever actress Richa Moorjani.

“You’re a queen[,] we love you,” commented Live Tinted CEO Deepica.

“WE ARE SO PROUD OF YOU!!!! Going to watch BECAUSE you’re in it,” said social media influencer Seerat Saini. 

Speaking to Teen Vogue, Avantika said she found the online prejudice amusing.

 “I thought it was funny how the movie was called Mean Girls and everybody was being a mean girl on Twitter,” she said.

The actress said the criticism online didn’t take a toll on her because she felt the accusations were baseless. 

“If anybody says anything about my acting, I’m like ‘please tell me more’. If you don’t feel like you’re connecting to the character on screen, I should know. But if you’re talking about how you can smell the character from the screen, you’re simply an ignorant person and a bigot, and there’s nothing I can do about that,” she said.

You can be the judge on Avantika’s portrayal of her favourite Mean Girls character. 

The reboot has been playing in Australian cinemas since 11 January. 

READ ALSO: Former Miss Universe Australia Maria Thattil joins Neighbours

Nadine Silva
Nadine Silva
Nadine Silva is the Assistant Editor of Indian Link.

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