Wednesday, November 22

The Suitable Girl: A Love Letter To Kevin G

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On October 3rd, let us all together say “Damn, Africa.”

It’s been a long time since Mean Girls came out. As I dwell on the fact that I am 12 years older than when I first saw it with my parents, both confused and amused in equal measure, I am forced to confront the fact that it’s been 12 years of me harboring a crush on the movie’s only brown character, Math Enthusiast/Bad-ass MC Kevin Gnapoor. Or Kevin G, as he’s more commonly called.

 

 

This love was born out of a desperate lack of South Asian characters on the big screen who resembled me in any way. Mean Girls came out the same year as Harold & Kumar. While the latter gave me John Cho, it also tied me to a tired narrative of brownness: My dad wasn’t forcing me to be a doctor.

It WAS possible to be cool and South Asian.

Also who made Kal Penn the expert on being brown?

At 13, I was on the precipice of high school and wildly uncomfortable with every inch of my body. Kevin G, played by Rajiv Surendra, for his unabashed embracing of everything nerd — 90s hip-hop, math competitions — and unexpected “wokeness,” was my way out. He gave me an avenue to not fit the narrative and also to embrace it.

Looking back, I’m sure Tina Fey wrote Kevin G as a sad punchline: look at the brown dude steering out of his league.

In the movie, he was supposed to be ridiculous.

 

He rapped and made lurid jokes. He ripped his shirt open at a math tournament and talked smack. He turned down the white princess with some pseudo-ethnocentricity. He was so compelling, despite what he was set up to be.

He was a handsome South Asian guy with a personality who had sexual desire and pulled the girl at the end (we all know Janis was the true babe of the movie).

Yet he remained just a side character throughout.

Of course he wasn’t unique in that. So many great characters of color who bucked the common narrative have been sidelined. You’re probably mentally going through the graveyard of fictional characters right now.

At the time, I didn’t know enough to be angry at the way Kevin G was used in the movie. I was just happy to see a goofy brown kid on screen. Looking back now I resent the way he acted as a subtle, racially-charged punching bag for jokes about Asian male sexuality. But maybe the fact that he was off to the side, doing his “thang” in the wings, was the quiet cue I needed to keep doing me.

I have performed his rap a million and one times. To my friends for easy laughs. In the shower when I couldn’t think of a song. At parties in a varsity jacket, during the million re-watchings of the movie, on cue, literally all the time. It’s a silly souvenir of my early teen-hood, but I still keep it close.

 

It’s like dressing up as Jasmine for Halloween or learning a “Bollywood” dance for a wedding. I get to put on Kevin G for a minute, like a costume of much-loved brownness, and revel in it.

When I was 13, Kevin G was an important force. Mean Girls gave everyone in my generation a common anchor, a reservoir of references to pull from whenever the conversation stalled. But it was the scrawny South Asian kid with the unbridled confidence who set me up for high school more than any cautionary tale about girl-on-girl bullying

So on this day, the holiest day in the millennial calendar, celebrate Mean Girls by re-watching Kevin G’s iconic Christmas rap. And remember real Gs move in silence.

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