Mindy Kaling‘s incredible success has been good for women and minorities for a variety of reasons. The Mindy Project is the first major network sitcom to star a South Asian person of any gender, and the simple fact that her protagonist exists with race as a component, but not the overriding purpose, of her character is quietly revolutionary. The fact that her character is allowed to have flaws, rather than be some sort of “model woman/minority”? Even better. Which is why I was surprised at first when I saw an article titled Does Mindy Kaling Need More Female Writers?
TNR’s Noreen Malone points to a photo Kaling posted on Instagram (above) of her writing staff on the night of her show’s premiere, which reveals them to be overwhelmingly white and male. At first I was annoyed; Mindy Kaling is already representing women and minorities as the insanely successful runner of her own show who, as she has said, can go “toe to toe with the best white, male comedy writers out there.” What more do you want from her? But reading on, I think she might have a point.
Like Malone, I was annoyed by several moments in the pilot, for which the mostly-male writer’s room may be partly to blame. (I wanted to like the show so badly that I ignored them at first.) For instance, when Mindy’s co-worker (with whom we are supposed to think she will end up) made a cruel comment about her weight, he lost my faith in him as a viable candidate for Mindy’s love, possibly forever. And as for the rom-com cliches about women, I’m on the fence. Sometimes the show feels like a send-up of those cliches, but sometimes it presents them a little too sincerely. Sure, Mindy is telling a “specific” story about a woman who’s obsessed with marriage and turns into a jealous harpy when faced with rejection (a defense the much maligned Whitney Cummings has used frequently), but is it a coincidence that the vast majority of female protagonists on TV and in movies have told that very same story? Suddenly, it doesn’t seem so specific anymore.
Of course, this is a problem that affects all of television and not just Mindy Kaling’s show, and there are many worse offenders I can think of. The pool of established comedy writers looks pretty white and male, and despite having once been given her big break as a newcomer herself, Mindy probably didn’t want to take a chance on someone who resembles her at age 24 because “as a still-unproven showrunner, she wanted to work with people she trusts to make good TV.” And just because someone is a woman and a minority doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be any more progressive on this stuff than a white man, once they’re in that door; not everyone shares Michelle Obama‘s belief that you shouldn’t slam it shut behind you. It’s somewhat analogous to Mindy’s seldom-referenced political conservatism, which seems borne of a belief that the American dream is real because one family (hers) managed to achieve it, and anyone who can’t is just lazy.
However, it still feels slightly hypocritical coming from someone who says things like this:
I spend a lot of time loving on women because (1) women are lovable and admirable and the only people I want to spend 80% of my time with, (2) It’s important to support other women vocally because it’s not 2050 yet and doing this really can help encourage women and employ them in Hollywood, the world, etc and (3) karma, man.
Then again, she praises the shockingly sexist writing of Aaron Sorkin in that same article, so her words ring a bit hollow.
TL;DR: Mindy Kaling obviously “can” hire whomever she likes, and is under no obligation to improve things for people whose skin and/or genitals look like hers. It’s certainly a problem that’s bigger than her, and one she has no obligation to tackle. (Nor does anyone…but of course, if nobody does, things will never change.) But her participation in a shitty status quo seems slightly less comprehensible than most people’s, especially considering she only has a booming career right now because someone else decided to give a somewhat green but seemingly very funny young writer a chance to prove herself, once upon a time. Which she did.
(Via The New Republic)
Photo: Mindy Kaling