Something occurred to me a few weeks ago, as I finished reading Mindy Kaling’s second book Why Not Me?, I love Mindy Kaling. I mean I don’t love her because I don’t actually know her but I 100% without a doubt adore her. I’ve been a loyal fan of hers for a while, but it wasn’t until last week that I really began to understand how much I think Mindy Kaling kicks ass.
A few reasons I think Mindy is awesome and brilliant:
She co-wrote an original off Broadway skit Matt & Ben,
Moved from NY to LA, became a writer and producer on the U.S. television series The Office,
Created and stars in her own TV show The Mindy Project. She also happens to be a best selling author.
Kaling has previously commented on the fact that she didn’t start her career thinking she would become a role model to younger women of color. In her latest book she discusses how this has changed the way she approaches certain aspects of her life, she reflects that it has made her very aware of how much her actions affect an entire generation of women who may look up to her. There is a particular encounter Mindy recalls when she was asked to do a Q&A in Manhattan and a teenage girl asked her where she got her confidence from. Mindy explains that it’s easy to go into auto-pilot mode when she’s asked the same type of question. The exchange with the young girl was one of those moments where upon looking back on it she realized she had given a generic and basic response. Mindy addresses her regret in the book and goes on to give what she feels is the response the girl deserved.
“For the record. I, like everyone else, have had moments when I felt unattractive and stupid and unskilled. […] Confidence is just entitlement. Entititlement has gotten a bad rap because it’s used almost exclusively for the useless children of the rich, reality TV stars. […] But entitlement in and of itself isn’t so bad. Entitlement is simply the belief that you deserve something. Which is great. The hard part is, you’d better make sure you deserve it.”
Mindy attributes this confidence and her feeling of deserving to hard work and by looking at her career it’s pretty clear she is no stranger to it. As a Latina, the daughter of an immigrant, an aspiring writer, a pop-culture enthusiast, and a lover of comedy, Mindy Kaling is definitely one my heroes.
There’s an ongoing conversation that exists between my older brother and I about how our identities are strongly shaped by that fact that we are the children of Hispanic immigrants, that we are immigrants. I think about what it means to me, a millennial who’s always had difficulty feeling a sense of belonging with any one group of people.
Consider my options filling out the first few questions on any standardized test or government form:
Two or more Races: check,
Hispanic or Latino: check,
Tired of having to label myself: check.
I think about what being an immigrant means to my brother, a Latino professional who’s been told he’s a “unicorn” by white colleagues. A label that sounds positive but is actually an insult because it carries implications that successful people of his race, skin color, and background are magical and rare.
This discussion with my brother concerning identity has occurred more frequently since I moved to Los Angeles seven months ago, it makes sense to me since L.A. is home to an industry infatuated with cranking out familiar images year after year. This happens to be something Mindy addresses in a chapter of her book entitled “Coming This Fall.” She reveals that in her eleven years in the industry she has seen a handful of television series concepts get used unremittingly every pilot season. She describes each pilot idea with clever quips and funny titles like, “Boy-Man Must Face The Adult World”, “The Staunch Oval Office Dame”, and “Superhero: Before!” I couldn’t help laughing at her observation that as a society hooked on entertainment we don’t seem to mind accepting the same piece of bland toast every season. However, after the sixth description of a plot I’m pretty sure is currently being used on every television network, I got angry. What she describes doesn’t just happen every tv pilot season, it happens all the time throughout media. We’re presented with similar types of movies, TV shows, and advertising campaigns. It’s an issue that has instigated a lot of discussion recently because it is a problem we still haven’t solved. The lack of diversity in the 2016 Academy Award nominations once again drew attention to this shameful truth about the entertainment industry. The matters of race, ethnicity, privilege, identity, and the lack of realistic representations concerning how rich and vivid our world continue to arise in the news and social media. I believe this problem occurs when the people who have previously been marginalized finally begin receiving the recognition they deserve yet they continue to be treated as outliers rather than the standard. My brother gets called a unicorn while Mindy is referred to as a pioneer, but these labels only exist because more opportunities in the limelight don’t yet exist for minorities.
The pie chart above shows the distribution of roles by race in cable scripted shows during the 2012-13 season. The chart appears in the 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report: Flipping the Script produced by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA.
Mindy’s upbringing and background are reasons why I can identify with her, but I love her because she’s talented, cheeky, and never fails to make me laugh out loud. But truthfully, I’d rather not get so easily excited about identifying with a single person in entertainment. It shouldn’t be something special that happens once in a while, it should be a familiar sensation for every person regardless of their personal identity or background. Until that fact changes I continue to binge watch my favorite OBGYN as she gets her groove on in New York City.
* Interested in other books by Mindy Kaling? Check out Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)
* Photo of Mindy Kaling by Dominic D used under the Creative Commons license