When "The Mindy Project" premiered on Fox in fall 2012, it was widely hailed as a breakthrough for diversity in mainstream television. Its star, Mindy Kaling, who plays a romantically challenged obstetrician in a New York hospital, became the first woman of color to create, direct and star in a successful sitcom on a major network.

But even as the broadcast networks overall are showcasing more minority actors than ever in scripted programming, Kaling is facing mounting criticism that her own sitcom isn't diverse enough. Critics have pointed out that the popular Indian-American actress/executive producer, with 2.8 million Twitter followers, has surrounded her prime-time fictional self with a mostly white cast.

Unlike many medical shows seen on network television -- "Grey's Anatomy," "Scrubs," "House," "E.R." -- "The Mindy Project" does not feature a strong multiethnic ensemble. In addition to Kaling's character, the only other minority member of the regular cast is Xosha Roquemore, who plays a sassy nurse.

The issue flared at last month's SXSW conference in Texas, where questions about Kaling's casting choices provoked an obscenity-laced response.

"I look at shows on TV, and this is going to sound defensive, but I'm just going to say it: I'm a(n) ... Indian woman who has her own ... network television show," Kaling said. "I have four series regulars that are women on my show, and no one asks any of the shows I adore -- and I won't name them because they're my friends -- why no leads on their shows are women of color. And I'm the one that gets lobbied about these things."


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Also drawing scrutiny have been Kaling's onscreen boyfriends -- all white. The show, which returned April 1 after a midseason break and has been picked up for a third season, has not dodged the boyfriend question. In fact, characters have made fun of Kaling's Dr. Mindy Lahiri for her lighter-skinned preferences.

"I think it's too bad that a small minority of people are fixated on the men who are in bed with me," says Kaling in an interview. "I think that's a bit specific and weird."

But Kaling says she understands that diversity on "The Mindy Project" has become a hot topic, and she says it has affected her deeply.

"Ultimately, this is a compliment to the bar that people have set for me," she says, "and that expectation is not one that my peers face. I have to accept that.

"The fact is, I am so proud to be an Asian-American and part of the Asian-American community," she adds. "My connection with that community is so strong. It struck me that the show is being characterized as not celebrating that richness. I take that more personally than other things."

Kaling's ethnicity is a key source of humor on the series, and jokes about race and stereotypes are frequent. In an early episode during the first season, her character was thrilled about going out with her colleagues to a club frequented by NBA players. "Black guys love me!" she declared.

"My writing staff and I have been determined to create what is a totally original character," she says. "We've been focused on creating a girl you've never seen before. We're also very determined to show diverse talent. We think that's important."

The tempest swirling around "The Mindy Project" mirrors a similar one largely weathered by Lena Dunham, the star and creator of HBO's "Girls," who was knocked for the Brooklyn-set show's lack of minority characters.

But some say Kaling is being held to a higher standard because of her ethnic background. "There are a lot of white creators and show runners who haven't taken the same heat as Mindy Kaling has," says Darnell Hunt, head of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. "On the other hand, when you do something that is groundbreaking and is not business as usual, you raise the expectations of audiences who really want to see more diversity."

Hunt, who was lead author on a recently released study by the center examining diversity in Hollywood, adds, "It's unfortunate that Mindy has that weight on her shoulders, but that's the reality. Part of being a trailblazer is being a lightning rod for people to focus their frustrations."

Kaling says she has been listening. "I have a great job, a great life and a great responsibility, like Spider-Man," she says, smiling. "I have to do more, and that's fine. I'm excited about it."