Have you ever had one of those moments when you read an interview or a book from a celebrity and you think to yourself, “Whoa…we’re like the same person. In real life, I know we’d be best friends!”
That’s honestly how I felt when I read Mindy Kaling’s book, “Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me?” As a female writer of color also writing for a network comedy, I saw a lot of myself in Mindy and I admired her. She was proud to embrace her girliness (and love of cheesy rom coms) and yet still stand her ground and demand to be taken seriously in a very male-dominated industry like Hollywood.
“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 can really help encourage women and employ them in Hollywood, the world, etc and (3) karma, man,” wrote Kaling in a post for HelloGiggles.
Even before her book came out, I was already a fan of Kelly Kapoor on "The Office." When I first started getting into the show, it was Mindy (not Steve Carrell) who drew me in. She was a rare Indian-American actress featured in primetime television who was funny and attractive in a much more realistic, relatable way than most women that come across my TV screen.
And I learned that in real life, she was hired as a staff writer (and the only female) for "The Office" at the age of 24. At the time, I was in college and aspired to be in Mindy’s shoes one day and also write for television. Mindy was an inspiration for me and I was thrilled that she was able to find mainstream success in Hollywood, despite all the racial and gender barriers that still exist.
That’s why a lot of my female writer friends and I rejoiced when her series got picked up earlier this year. Maybe we were being naïve, but we sincerely hoped that "The Mindy Project" would be an opportunity for new female and other diverse voices.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
As this Instagram photo of her writing staff shows, Mindy hired nearly an entire team of male writers. I was disappointed to learn that there’s only one other woman besides Mindy, a woman you’d almost miss in the photo if you weren’t looking closely.
In many ways, this Instagram photo is very representative of Hollywood. The majority of TV shows are in fact written by a team that doesn’t accurately reflect the diversity of the world we live in. "The Mindy Project" is a female-skewing series about a successful woman who is obsessed with rom coms and is looking for her own storybook romance. If ever there were a show where female voices matter, where they could clearly be an asset, it would be this one.
As someone working in this industry, I know that the assumption that there aren’t enough female writers to hire is false. In reality, there are many talented female writers who aren’t employed because of a lack of access to these opportunities, not a lack of talent. Television is still largely a boy’s club. In fact, a recent study done by the Center for Study of Women in Television and Film found that 68 percent of all TV shows don’t even have one female writer on staff.
Of course, Mindy Kaling isn’t singlehandedly responsible for that appalling 68 percent statistic, but she also hasn’t done much to challenge the status quo, either. As a rare female showrunner of color, she has a social responsibility to hire females (and people of color), especially because she herself was hired as part of the diversity program at NBC. If the showrunner of "The Office" had never taken a chance on a then unknown, unproven Mindy, she may not have ever gotten the chance to prove herself to be the extraordinary talent that she is.
Mindy was recently asked about the lack of females on her staff, to which she replied:
“…Most writing staffs on sitcoms are dominated by men. If I was a man with a staff like this, it wouldn't be scrutinized…I have another woman on my staff. It's a very small staff, and I'm always looking for more. The minute money opens up, I would love that.”
I just wish she would have made female writers a priority in that initial round. Much like other newbie female showrunners, Lena Dunham ("Girls"), Liz Meriwether ("The New Girl"), and Nahnatchka Khan ("Don’t Trust the B* In Apartment 23"), who hired multiple women for their writing staffs in their first seasons.
Personally, I'm hurt that "The Mindy Project," which is so clearly aimed at women, is being told through the voices of mostly men. As a writer on a staff with three other women, I know firsthand how valuable and necessary the female perspective is and how important it is to have a good balance of men and women in the writers’ room. It’s frustrating to know that a woman who had the power to support other women in a major way chose not to do so.
And I can’t help thinking that maybe Mindy got it all wrong. The way you show your support for women isn’t by simply saying it interviews or writing it down in a book. It’s by demonstrating it through your actions, which always speak louder than words.