Mindy Kaling’s Call-Out Is Proof We Need More WOC in Positions of Power

Because no one advocates for women of colour like other women of colour

Katherine Singh
(Photo: Getty Images)

Mindy Kaling may not have set out to be a role model but she’s definitely ours. The actress, writer, producer and all-around badass has been 100 per cent that bitch since she burst onto our screens in The Office as Kelly Kapoor in 2005, and we love her for it. But apparently, the Television Academy didn’t always have that same appreciation. In an interview with Elle for the publication’s Women in Hollywood issue, Kaling opened up about her career, revealing that in the early days of the series the organization in charge of the Emmy Awards tried to drop her from the show’s list of producers. This would have made Kaling—who produced, wrote for and starred in the show—ineligible to accept an award if the series won an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy.

At the time, Kaling says the Academy made the argument that there were too many producers on the ballot. Kaling, the only woman and person of colour on the list, was the only producer considered for the cut. “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 told the magazine. “I had to get letters from all the other male, white producers saying that I had contributed, when my actual record stood for itself.”

And just:

Also:

First of all, how dare you? Second of all, how dare you? After the article was published, the Television Academy released a statement to the Los Angeles Times. “No one person was singled out,” it reads. “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. Every performer producer and writer producer was asked to justify their producer credits.”

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And Kaling swiftly called BS. The actress and mother of one called out the TV Academy in a series of tweets, writing: “Respectfully, the Academy’s statement doesn’t make any sense. I *was* singled out. There were other Office writer-performer-producers who were NOT cut from the list. Just me. The most junior person, and a woman of color. Easiest to dismiss. Just sayin’.”

Aaaaand we’re officially screaming. Naturally, we’re super proud of Kaling for sticking to her guns and clapping back at such blatant injustice. She also just reinforced something we’ve known for a while: We need more women of colour in positions of power—because they’re the ones who are going to get the job done, and raise other women of colour up.

Women of colour continuously have to prove their worth

As difficult as it already is for women of colour to break into Hollywood (a 2019 report from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism found that WOC are heavily underemployed in the industry), it doesn’t get any easier once they’re in. In her Women in Hollywood profile, Kaling recalled an experience she had on the set of The Mindy Project where while clad in her character’s signature OTT outfit, she “click-clacked in stilettos over the pavement to film” and a security guard yelled at her to get off the set. Kaling, the very famous star of the show (her face was legit plastered across billboards), had to tell the employee that she was, in fact, the show’s creator and star. If that’s not a clear example of women of colour having to continuously prove they belong, I don’t know what is.

But the fact remains that they consistently do—across all industries. According to a 2018 Women in the Workplace study by McKinsey and Company, 64 per cent of women deal with microaggressions in the workplace. Most commonly, this means that women have to provide more evidence of their competence than their male counterparts and often have their judgement questioned in their area of expertise (sound familiar?). In addition, women are more likely to be mistaken for someone in a junior position. Black women in particular are more likely to face these microaggressions.

In her tweet thread, Kaling touched on the humiliation she felt being treated that way by the Academy, especially after having written so many episodes of The Office (a total of 24 throughout its run), simply “because they couldn’t fathom [she] was capable of doing it.”

And beyond having to prove their worth themselves, women of colour are constantly having to have their worth proven—or validated—by others. As Kaling pointed out, she had to have her work and worth as a member of the team and in the industry, validated by her white, male colleagues. While it’s great that Kaling did receive support from her colleagues (as she should have), she shouldn’t have had to. “The point is, we should have [to] be bailed out because of the kindness [of] our more powerful white male colleagues,” Kaling tweeted.

And she’s right. It creates a power imbalance in which Kaling’s work is only valued once validated by her colleagues, and makes her success beholden to them.

This treatment extends to women of colour behind the camera as well. In April, Crazy Rich Asians writer Adele Lim left the movie’s sequel after it was revealed that her co-writer, Peter Chiarelli, was being paid a significantly higher fee. Like Kaling, Lim was a more junior writer and, also like Kaling, she added a perspective and authenticity to the script that a non-Asian writer couldn’t. Lim’s co-writer graciously offered to split his pay with her, but Lim refused, telling The Hollywood Reporter: “Pete has been nothing but incredibly gracious, but what I make shouldn’t be dependent on the generosity of the white-guy writer. If I couldn’t get pay equity after CRA, I can’t imagine what it would be like for anyone else, given that the standard for how much you’re worth is having established quotes from previous movies, which women of color would never have been [hired for].”

Read this next: Mindy Kaling’s Late Night Feels Like Foreshadowing In the *Best* Way

Kaling’s call-out is important—but it couldn’t have happened until now

While the Academy hasn’t responded to Kaling’s latest tweets, we’re betting that they will. Because they have to. Kaling is wildly popular and successful (she’s BFFs with Beyoncé, after all). She, alongside many other women of colour (like Ava Duvernay, Kerry Washington, Oprah Winfrey and Jennifer Lopez, to name a few) are currently in positions of power in the industry and doing amazing things. The Academy needs them, not the other way around. Which gives these women some serious power.

In her final tweet on the topic, Kaling prompted the organization to apologize for their treatment of her:

The Academy considering a public apology is something that likely wouldn’t have happened when Kaling was actually starring in The Office. As Lim pointed out in her comments on pay inequity, the establishment of a writer’s worth is based on their experience and access to work in the industry, things Kaling had less of at the beginning of her career.

This is something Kaling inadvertently touches on in one her tweets, writing: “I’ve never wanted to bring up that incident because The Office was one of the greatest creative experiences of my life, and who would want to have an adversarial relationship with the Academy, who has the ongoing power to enhance our careers with awards?”

Kaling is only now able to make these comments because there’s less fear of it negatively impacting her career. But her inability to speak up for herself early in her career—for fear of reprisal—is telling and means that there are probably countless women and minorities who are going through the same struggles she was, and having to remain silent while it continues.

Which is why we need more women in positions of power

Specifically, we need more women of colour in positions of power, both to call out institutions like the Academy and to advocate for young women of colour—because no one will advocate for women of colour like other women of colour. And Kaling is a great example of that. Since her time on The Office, the actress has repeatedly used her clout to help raise up other women of colour and usher them into the industry. The multi-hyphenate megastar is now building an empire hinged entirely on inclusivity and diversity. For her latest Netflix project, a series based on her life, Kaling put out a worldwide casting call for young Desi women, eventually casting Canadian teen Maitreyi Ramakrishnan and fostering new (and diverse) stars.

Read this next: Gwendoline Christie’s Emmy Nom Is a Reminder That You a Bad Bitch

This is important. Seeing women of colour—women who look like a large majority of the world’s population—is important for breaking down norms and helping young people see themselves in, and in turn aspire to, positions of power. Additionally, having women in influential positions where they’re sitting on boards (like the Academy) and making the calls helps ensure that different voices are heard, diverse stories are shared—on both sides of the camera—and that no one is dropped from the Emmy ballot they deserve to be on.

So let’s all channel our favourite feminist warrior

…Mindy Kaling.

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