Indian-American actor and ‘Mean Girls’ star Avantika Vandanapu was named the South Asian Person of the Year by Harvard University on Wednesday.

The 19-year-old was recognised for her outstanding achievements and impact on both the international and Indian entertainment industries. “Being honoured by such a prestigious institution as Harvard University is truly humbling and incredibly motivating. This award not only acknowledges my efforts but also underscores the significance of narratives transcending borders and the crucial role of Indian representation in global media,” she said.

The young actor has recently faced backlash after rumours she was being cast as Princess Rapunzel in a live-action version of the 2010 animated Disney film “Tangled.” Several Disney fans and critics took to social media to share their displeasure over an actor of South Asian heritage portraying the fictional character.

Some of them claimed it was inaccurate to cast Ms Vandanapu in the fairy tale popularised by the Brothers Grimm featuring a princess of German descent.

This backlash came months after African-American singer Halle Bailey was cast as Ariel in the live-action movie “The Little Mermaid.” Soon, #NotMyAriel had started trending on Twitter in response to Bailey’s selection.

Born to a Telugu family from Hyderabad, Ms Vandanapu has featured in several Hollywood projects like ‘Mean Girls’, ‘Spin’, and ‘Senior Years’ and also debuted in Indian OTT series ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’.

“It propels me to delve into stories that challenge stereotypes, embrace diversity, and forge deep connections with people. My journey is just beginning, and this recognition ignites my determination to continue contributing positively through my work,” the actor said.

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