In a new cover story for Elle, Mindy Kaling discussed her experience in the entertainment industry as a woman of color. Her identity has always been a part of discussions about her career as a writer, producer, and actress, sometimes even when she'd have preferred it not to. As a “trailblazer” she entered spaces that were typically reserved for white men and often found herself to be the only woman or only person of color in the room.
For a long time, and to the dismay of people who found inspiration in her fame, she resisted becoming any sort of “champion of diversity.” So much so, that some people accused her of perpetuating the status quo even as she gained the power to do things differently. This became a particular point of criticism when a selfie she shared from the writer’s room of the Mindy Project revealed that she was the only person of color on staff.
“It used to frustrate me a lot that I felt way more scrutinized by women and women of color than white showrunners were on shows with all-white casts,” Kaling said to Elle. “I just wanted to be a writer. I didn’t necessarily look at it as being like, ‘Well, you also have to be a spokesperson.’ That’s not what I signed up for.”
Even as she resisted that sort of labeling, she was still dealing with the byproducts of a homogeneously white, male industry. During the 2004 nominations of The Office by the Emmys, Kaling revealed that she was the only producer asked to justify why her name should be included on the ballot because there were reportedly space constraints.
“They made me, not any of the other producers, fill out a whole form and write an essay about all my contributions as a writer and a producer,” Kaling explained. “I had to get letters from all the other male, white producers saying that I had contributed when my actual record stood for itself.”
That experience among others was an inspiration for her recent film Late Night, which follows her character, Molly, as she navigates working in an all-male, all-white writers room for a late-night show. In tweets following the Elle story, Kaling further expanded on the experience, which the Television Academy disputed actually ever occurred.
“No one person was singled out,” a spokesman told the Los Angeles Times. “There was an increasing concern years ago regarding the number of performers and writers seeking producer credits. At the time the Producers Guild worked with the Television Academy to correctly vet producer eligibility.”
Kaling shared the story and had a rebuttal.
“Respectfully, the Academy’s statement doesn’t make any sense. I *was* singled out,” Kaling tweeted. “There were other Office writer-performer-producers who were NOT cut from the list. Just me. The most junior person, and woman of color. Easiest to dismiss. Just sayin’.”
For the academy to dispute a charge like this ten years later indicates that while Kaling has learned plenty, some of the most powerful in the industry has not.
“It really doesn’t matter how much money I have,” Kaling concluded in the Elle story. “I’m treated badly with enough regularity that it keeps me humble.”