Netflix’s Never Have I Ever breakout star Maitreyi Ramakrishnan covers this month’s issue of Teen Vogue. The 19-year-old actress carries the weight of her role representing the few South Asians in film and television. Ramakrishnan reflects on her journey over the past two years from working with her boss, mentor and friend, Mindy Kaling, her desire to stay busy and what she loves most about her character, Devi.
This issue of Teen Vogue is even more rewarding for the South Asian community as it is also the inaugural cover of newly appointed editor-in-chief Versha Sharma. In her first Letter from the Editor, Sharma shares her heartfelt reflection on how important this cover is for her and South Asian representation as she reveals her mission for Teen Vogue.
“If I could go back in time and tell my younger self that one day I would be the first South Asian editor-in-chief of one of those beloved magazines and that my first cover would feature another young woman of South Asian descent front and center,” Sharma shares in the letter. “Those days of feeling like I didn’t belong might have been a little easier to stomach.”
Alongside Sharma’s pursuit to add more South Asian representation in media, Ramakrishnan continues to reshape the narrative for her community.
“It’s crazy to me how people will say [about] the South Asian experience, ‘There are many cultures and dialects and backgrounds within South Asians. You can’t put us all in one,” Ramakrishnan shares her struggle to be authentic in her representation of South Asians in the full cover story. “And then they turn to something like Never Have I Ever’ and they’re like, ‘You don’t represent me. How dare you not represent me? You failed.’ And it’s like, ‘Wait. You heard what you just said, right? Sweetheart, you’re so close.’”
Maitreyi also shares more about her relationship with Never Have I Ever creator Mindy Kaling. Ramakrishnan discusses the burden Kaling carries as one of the few South Asian representatives creating shows surrounding their stories.
“We need more representation. We need more stories, we need more storytellers,” Ramakrishnan continues. “We can’t just keep relying on Mindy Kaling to keep making all these shows. I want her to keep making more. But I need more people with her.”
Netflix’s Never Have I Ever follows a first-generation Indian-American teenager who wants to improve her status at school after a traumatic year, but her friends, family, and feelings don’t make it easy on her. The show first debuted to the streaming platform last April. Season two debuted July 15 and quickly reached Netflix’s Top 10 list of trending shows.
Ramakrishnan’s character Devi is authentic and relatable, sharing her emotions despite how it may make others feel.
“Devi calls it out, because she just bluntly is being a mess in front of us and she’s calling us out, because we see ourselves in her,” the young actress explains. “Sure, we’re not telling crazy, crazy rumors that destroy people’s reputations. But have we not said things in anger? Have we not all gossiped at one point? Have we not all been in a position where we [have] said or done something that’s like, ‘Oh! I just crossed the line. I should not have said that. I really hurt someone. That was an inappropriate thing to say.’”
Though South Asian Americans can relate to Devi, Ramakrishnan details how her character also appears to a number of other demographics.
“My philosophy is, if you are so proud of your identity, whoever that may be, whether it’s related to your culture, orientation, or anything in between — if you are so proud in that, that means it’s a story that deserves to have screen time, because it’s worth it. Clearly there’s an audience, and that audience is you,” Ramakrishnan says in the article.
With two seasons under her belt, fans would imagine Ramakrishnan has been productive enough. However, that won’t suffice for her ambitions and constant desire to stay busy.
“There is my brain that said, ‘You haven’t done enough for 19. You need to do more,'” Ramakrishnan recalls. “I always joke that I can count on one hand how many times I’ve genuinely been proud of myself and still have fingers left over. Which is a joke, but it’s also true.”
Catch Maitreyi Ramakrishnan in the latest issue of Teen Vogue and on the latest season of Never Have I Ever streaming now on Netflix. See photos from the Teen Vogue cover below.