Mindy Kaling has every right to be mad that she’s reminded of her gender and race pretty much every time she’s asked a question in public.
“One of the things that has been helpful to me is that I try to not think that much about the fact that I’m an Indian-American,” she said at a SXSW panel earlier this week. “So many people will look at me and think, ‘You’re different from everyone else.’ But I can’t. I can’t think about my legacy, it’s a distraction. I don’t want to deny who I am, because it’s so important to me, but I can’t rely on it.”
When a panel attendant later asked Kaling why her show didn’t include more women of color, The Mindy Project creator and star didn’t hide her exasperation. Kaling responded,
“No one asks any of these other shows that I adore — and I won’t name them because they’re my friends — why no leads on their show are women or women of color, but I’m the one who gets all of these things.
“It is a little insulting. I don’t run the country, I’m not a political figure, I’m someone writing a show and I want to use funny people. What should I be doing? It’s a little frustrating to me….
“People have a higher expectation for me. They say, ‘Why aren’t you doing more?’ The answer is: I always want to be doing more, because people should always be doing as much as they possibly can. But my full-time job is not a casting director of The Mindy Project; my job is producer-writer-star.”
Kaling is dead right about one thing. Gender and racial diversity isn’t a problem only women and nonwhite showrunners should solve. Few people have taken a similar show like CBS’s How I Met Your Mother to task, for example, for its all-white cast (in 21st-century New York!) simply because Carter Bays and Craig Thomas are white men, and therefore can apparently practice employment discrimination when casting guest actors with impunity.
Still, it’s problematic for Kaling to say that she simply “want[s] to use funny people” without taking their race or gender into account. That’s pretty much the same line Lorne Michaels gave for explaining the absence of black women on SNL — that no black comedienne was “ready.”
But perhaps the most frustrating part about Kaling’s comments about the lack of women of color on her show is that Kaling herself was initially a “diversity hire” on The Office. She went on to write some of the best episodes on that show, including “The Dundies” and “Take Your Daughter to Work Day.” So it’s demoralizing to see Kaling fill her own writing room with white men. She’s too busy, apparently, to give the next Mindy Kaling a shot.